It’s a call to action frequently seen during this week’s protests: "defund the police"
So now, in the background of a still ongoing health crisis, protests, and violent looting which have rocked the city this week, a budget battle is also brewing at City Hall.
Anthonine Pierre, Deputy Director at the Brooklyn Movement Center, is part of a coalition of police and criminal justice reform groups calling for a restructuring of the NYPD's budget.
“It’s time to defund the police, it’s time to take $1 billion from their budget,” Pierre said.
Advocates are calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to slash the NYPD’s $6 billion budget.
Instead, they want the mayor to redirect funds to youth services and social programs -- all which they say will be needed as the city’s most vulnerable recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
The call to "defund the NYPD" is likely to become a flash point in this year's budget negotiations. A budget agreement is due at the end of June.
Before protests broke out over the killing of George Floyd and thousands of New Yorkers took to city streets to demand changes at the local and federal level, de Blasio had already put forward a budget that included $2 billion in cuts.
The cuts, he says, are an attempt to find savings mainly impact social service agencies. There are no significant proposed cuts to the NYPD.
Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, a Democrat who represents parts of the Lower East Side, said the mayor should rethink how to distribute taxpayer dollars, given the health crisis the city has been plunged into.
“It’s absolutely shameful, that in the wake of all of these protests, our mayor still clings to the notion that the NYPD’s massive budget doesn’t play a huge role in the inequities and racism that we see in this city” Rivera said.
The group has specific demands: cut $1 billion from the department by removing the NYPD from public schools, freeze the incoming cadet classes, stop having officers respond to people in mental distress, and reduce the headcount.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams railed against the mayor on Wednesday.
“Mr. Mayor, you have an opportunity here," Williams said. “$6 billion? You’re saying we can't hire no teachers, no counselors. The only thing, however, that we can add more to is hiring a class of police. We are here to change the framework of how this city can move forward; you are setting us up for failure."
It’s a mathematical equation the mayor says he can't balance. Devastated by the pandemic, the city is now facing a $9 billion deficit thanks to a massive loss in tax revenue. De Blasio has already made some cuts, but critics are furious they impact agencies where funding is most needed.
The mayor says the city simply can't afford it unless a massive federal stimulus bill is passed in Washington.
“For folks who say defund the police, I would say that is not the way forward,” de Blasio said. “We have a challenge in these next weeks as we go into the summer: both, how do we physically do it while we're still dealing with the pandemic? And, also, how do we pay for it? We're in the worst fiscal crisis this city has seen in generations.”
The request is being echoed by some members of the City Council, even though some of them approved a budget early in the de Blasio administration which significantly increased the NYPD headcount.
The call to defund the NYPD has also grown beyond activists and council members.
This week, over 200 former de Blasio staffers signed an open letter to the mayor, voicing their disappointment with how he has handled the past few days.
They also made requests. At the top of the list? Cut funding from the NYPD.