People’s Budget NYC: Defund the NYPD & Invest in Our Communities

Image is an illustration of a city with two skyscrapers, a hospital, a brownstone, and a smaller house nestled on top of mounds of dirt. The mounds of dirt have grass and roses growing out of it, as well as fallen coins. The bottom right corner has a broken police badge that says NYPD. The bottom left corner has a broken robot police dog in the dirt. Above the city there are two upside down broken piggy banks wearing police hats with coins, bills of money, and other objects like apples, carrot,

Why we need a People’s Budget

New York City is still grappling with a pandemic that has devastated Black, working class, and impoverished communities — the ones that were already vulnerable due to systemic racism, and decades of divestments from the public services and programs they rely on. Millions of New Yorkers are struggling with limited access to healthcare and education, housing and food insecurity, job loss, and despair while hedge fund billionaires and luxury real estate magnates grow wealthier. New Yorkers need these investments into social services and programs more than ever.

Last summer, New Yorkers took to the streets demanding justice for Black lives through defunding the NYPD and investing in community care and development. We asked ourselves: What could the city look like if our budget fully invested in building up Black, Brown, working class communities instead of building up systems of punishment, violence, and control? How many lives could be saved if all New Yorkers had the services and infrastructure they need to be truly safe and healthy?

NYC-DSA’s #DefundNYPD campaign, building upon years of work from organizations across the country and with input from abolitionist organizers and other NYC-DSA working groups, set about answering those questions. We created what ultimately became our vision for a New York City built on a bedrock of real public health and safety: People’s Budget NYC: Defund the NYPD & Invest in Our Communities. This document will evolve over time to reflect additional input from community members and changing conditions in the city. It is not a blueprint — rather, it is a call to action on the budget priorities and policies that the mayor and city council must put in place to build the city we deserve: one where we respond to crimes of poverty, mental health and drug issues, and other challenges with care and compassion, not cuffs and cages.

What’s in People’s Budget NYC

We are calling for an immediate, dramatic reversal of New York City’s priorities in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget and beyond. This document focuses on using existing City funds and changing policy under the purview of the City government, but acknowledges that action is required from every level of government — City, State, and Federal:

I. Defund the police

Cut the NYPD budget by at least $3 billion, the police force by 50%, and immediately freeze all new hiring and overtime and reinvest those funds into working class communities.

New York City spends far more on policing than any other city in the country — $6 billion in the expense budget alone, $11 billion with pensions and overtime. But there is no evidence that more cops and police budgets keep our communities safe and healthy. Police do not actually prevent violent crime from occurring, nor do they effectively mitigate its aftermath. They make us less safe, not more.

Some specific examples of what cuts and policy changes we call for: Remove police from our schools, mental health and drug use response, subways, houseless “outreach”, public shelters and hospitals; dismantling the Strategic Response Group and the Vice Enforcement Division; eliminate budget bloat; decriminalize sex work, fare beating, soliciting, camping, jaywalking, etc.

II. Dismantle all systems of violence and punishment

Defund by 50% and freeze all new hiring and overtime in budgets for prosecutors’ offices, family surveillance and separation programs, and other violence-based responses to poverty and reinvest these funds into communities.

Incarceration does not reduce crime and continuing to invest in this system will not fix it. Building new jails, giving more money to DAs’ offices for community outreach, and bloating the budgets of city-contracted, private non-profits that only serve people after they’ve been incarcerated do not get to the root of what causes crime in the first place — a lack of investment in our community.

A few examples of the kind of cuts and policy changes we call for: halt the construction of new jails, demand the closure of the Rikers Island Jail, as well as all jails, prisons, and juvenile detention facilities; ban all local cooperation with ICE and prohibit city resources from being used to aid immigration enforcement; end Family Policing and forcible separation of children from their families through the child welfare and foster care systems.

III. Invest in real community safety and needs

Develop a program to create billions in new investments in the city budget each year, using money divested from police and other systems of surveillance and punishment. Replace criminal punishment interventions with fully funded community-based models of safety and invest in robust public health and social services, good jobs, economic security, and dignified housing.

Real public safety means all New Yorkers have their basic needs met. Nearly 20% of New York City residents already live below the poverty line and 1.5 Million New Yorkers can’t afford food. No one forced to choose between paying rent or filling prescriptions can be safe. No one who lacks free time to spend with their loved ones can be safe. Public safety requires ending poverty.

These investment demands fall into two categories:

  • Care, Not Cops: Addresses immediate and acute issues of public safety by demanding targeted investment to address community safety challenges like domestic and gender-based violence, sex work, mental health crises, school discipline and safety, and homelessness; For example, providing mental health professionals to respond to calls in lieu of police during mental health crises, ensure that these are culturally competent community members
  • Building Strong, Healthy and Just Communities: Robust community investments that will prevent crime from happening in the first place: public health and community services, funding good jobs, dignified housing, healthcare, child and elder care, mental healthcare, education, transit access, food security, and free time for culture and community for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, and not just those who are able-bodied

We hope candidates will run on these ideas, elected officials will develop policy based on them, and allied labor unions and community organizations will fight for them. Black, working class, and impoverished communities deserve transformative, structural change — not more half-hearted, severely limited “pilot programs” in the place of fully funding public services and programs or policing and prison reforms that have, again and again, been insufficient in producing material improvements to the lives of Black and Brown New Yorkers.

This is an achievable vision for New York City

This is a bold, yet viable, vision. Study after study shows that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are more successful in reducing crime than more police or prisons. Divesting from police, prisons, and other systems of surveillance and punishment and investing into communities will be what truly keeps New Yorkers safe and healthy.

The models of safety and care called for in this document have been done before and we know that they work: City agencies providing social services and programs have been underfunded or have had their funding cut for years. We know their services are critical to communities — fully fund them; Eugene, OR and Denver, CO send mental health professionals, not police officers, as first responders to folks experiencing mental health crises; NYC’s Cure Violence program has reduced violence using community-based outreach workers and violence interrupters; and there are many more examples across the country.

Moreover, City Council candidates across the city are pledging to vote “no” on any budget that does not reallocate $3 billion from the NYPD’s budget during their term and to reinvest those funds in non-punitive public safety programs and social services. Last summer’s uprisings led to these shifting tides and we have a historic opportunity to elect a City Council that will be able to carry this People’s Budget NYC forward.

A map of New York City’s city council districts, with each district numbered. Text overlayed on the map says “Distribution of candidates with platform or statements supporting “Defund-style” policies i.e., budget justice, “reallocation”, divest/invest, etc. Districts are colored white or various shades of blue depending on number of candidates that in that district have Defund-style policies. Most of Manhattan, North/Central Brooklyn, and Western/Central Queens are shaded blue.
A map of New York City’s city council districts, with each district numbered. Text overlayed on the map says “Distribution of signatures for the NYC public safety pledge as of 5/31/2021”. Districts are colored white or various shades of red depending on number of candidates that in that district who signed pledge. All five boroughs have colored in districts, with Upper Manhattan ,North/Central Brooklyn and Western Queens having more coverage.

What’s next

We can build this New York City now. Cities across the country are moving toward this abolitionist horizon: organizers in Los Angeles got a measure passed that requires the county invest 10% of its general funds into social services and programs, not policing or prisons, every year in perpetuity; groups in Austin successfully pressured their city council to vote to cut money from police budgets and invest those funds into permanent supportive housing for unhoused folks; community organizations in Oakland got cops out of their schools and redirected those funds towards counselors, social workers, and other student support services and programs.

The Mayor released the executive budget on April 26th and City Council votes on the final Fiscal Year 2022 budget in June. But the fight goes beyond this particular vote: the City Council has budget reviews throughout the year and we know that we must keep the pressure up to get the city we deserve.

Join us to #DefundNYPD, fund communities, and build a New York City that works for everyone:

#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. The DSA works collaboratively with community members, labor unions, and grassroots organizations to build a mass, multiracial, democratic abolitionist movement.

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