City Council’s $303 million message to New Yorkers: We just don’t care

Despite the growing movement to defund the police and invest in social services, City Council members have chosen to continue defunding health, education, sanitation, and small business services in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis. Here’s what you need to know — and how to join the fight for budget justice.

Image depicts hundreds of protesters gathered on October 17, 2020 to support the demand to defund the NYPD, tax the rich, and stop mass layoffs. The most prominent banners held by protesters in this image read “Defund, Disarm & Disband the Police,” “Protect Black Women,” “Disarm Defund Abolish | #DefundNYPD | DefundNYPD.com,” and “Crown Heights Service Industry Workers for Black Lives.”
Photo by Karla Coté

Let’s unpack, for a moment, what this approved budget for fiscal year 2022 — the largest in NYC history — means for the lives of Black, brown, poor, and working-class New Yorkers. Among many transgressions:

Research strongly suggests that safe cities require robust and well-funded community resources — and that higher police budgets do not guarantee safer cities. Reliance on punitive measures, in fact, exacerbates gun violence — while non-policing, community-led approaches have led to documented reductions in violent crime. To create a thriving New York City, we must reallocate billions from a bloated police budget to address the underlying issues that perpetuate crime: poverty, housing insecurity, overburdened hospitals, and more. Policing does not lead to lasting safety — or else the United States, which incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other nation in the world, would be devoid of any crime or violence. As public defender Takenya Nixon Brail emphasized: “If policing and incarceration really make us safer and healthier, we should be the safest society in history. We know that’s not the case.”

Still, the strange consensus among many career politicians and pundits, including the likely Democratic nominee for mayor of our city, is that the NYPD must be funded at exorbitant levels to grapple with violence and rising crime. Yet NYPD officers themselves have attacked protesters, escalated tensions, rioted through our parks and streets, and traveled to the United States Capitol to attack their own supposed “brothers in blue” in the name of white supremacy. Detractors of the #DefundNYPD movement conveniently forget that the NYPD’s budget has dramatically increased year over year to a level significantly higher than anywhere else in the country—yet this has led not to safer communities, but instead to heightened, violent suppression of protesters’ First Amendment rights, and the deadly, systemic enforcement of minor “quality-of-life” offenses in Black and brown communities.

In 2020, settlements for NYPD misconduct alone cost taxpayers over $205 million. Over the course of their lives, NYPD officers make roughly $4 million in earnings, plus non-cash benefits — and in the rare case that they are disciplined, officers usually face no more than the loss of a few vacation days. In short, our leaders are handsomely rewarding the NYPD for killing and brutalizing Black, brown, and working-class New Yorkers with almost complete impunity.

New York City voters increasingly understand that true public safety comes when we all enjoy equitable access to food, housing, healthcare, and community services. They desire public safety strategies that reduce crime instead of “putting more armed NYPD officers on the street” — from community violence intervention programs to access to safe housing. These services are historically the ones that have gone underfunded, and have been defunded by hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. And while many essential services and agencies that initially faced drastic cuts in the preliminary budget were spared due to a massive influx of federal aid, this one-time infusion does not address the systemic underinvestment in services that Black, brown, working-class, and impoverished communities need most.

A budget is a moral document; it tells us who our government puts first. By voting to pad the bloated NYPD budget with an additional $212+ million in funds, 39 City Council members have just revealed that they would rather yield to the power of the NYPD and the police union — and buckle to corporate, racist narratives about crime — than fight for the lives of their working-class constituents. They’ve done so at their own political risk.

Forty-three City Council candidates across four boroughs signed our NYC Public Safety Pledge, promising to support defunding the police and reallocating those funds into social services and public safety programs. Between six NYC-DSA-endorsed candidates, 43 Pledge signers, and candidates with public platforms that strongly support defunding the NYPD, almost a quarter of our new City Council is on the side of working people who want to refund our communities. This illustrates that the promise to create alternatives to policing is a viable and compelling political platformand that fealty to the police is not required to win public trust.

Since just March of this year, #DefundNYPD Campaign organizers have also collected over 1,100 signatures across the city for our petition, which calls on NYC Council members to 1) vote “no” on any budget that doesn’t reallocate at least $3 billion from the NYPD’s $11 billion yearly expenditure; 2) support efforts to reinvest those funds in non-punitive public safety programs and social services; 3) demand an immediate NYPD hiring freeze; and 4) support the permanent closure of the Rikers Island jail complex and stand against the construction of new borough-based jails. The movement to defund the NYPD now enjoys a bold and growing coalition of supporters who have presented their own platforms and blueprints for a safe and thriving New York City — from Communities United for Police Reform (CPR), to VOCAL-NY, to CCIT-NYC.

The recent failure of our leaders to present a just budget comes as a massive disappointment, but this betrayal only adds fuel to the fire. Until Black, brown, and working-class people are no longer terrorized at the hands of the police, we will continue to hold our leaders accountable, demand a meaningful defunding of the NYPD, and push for the reallocation of billions of dollars into the services that affirm the health and well-being of all New Yorkers. While we celebrate our growing power, with more #DefundNYPD supporters elected to City Council and more allies at the congressional and state levels than ever, we also recognize these victories only set the scene for our continued struggle. We need your help in the movement for our collective liberation.

Take action.

  • Join our growing movement. The #DefundNYPD Campaign is entirely volunteer-driven, and we need your help spreading the message with our neighbors, researching public safety, creating inspiring new communications materials — whatever you can offer. Sign up to volunteer with the #DefundNYPD Campaign today!
  • Demand more from our leaders. Pressure a new generation of elected leaders to support the reallocation of the NYPD’s yearly expenditure into the social services that lead to safe and thriving communities. Sign the #DefundNYPD Petition here.
  • Join our biweekly Defund Power Hour. Every other Monday from 6–7PM ET, we meet to share strategy updates and discuss ways to advance our movement. Register for the calls here.

About #DefundNYPD: #DefundNYPD is a campaign led by NYC-DSA, a local branch of the National Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). They are the largest leftist organization in the United States — and support the people’s demand to defund the police and abolish the prison industrial complex. DSA works collaboratively with labor unions and grassroots organizations to build a mass, multiracial, democratic abolitionist movement.

Racial Justice Working Group is part of the NYC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Follow us as we #DefundNYPD and refund the people.