NYC-DSA: Our Only Option is to #DefundNYPD

NYC-DSA Racial Justice Working Group Jun 24, 2020

Over the weekend, members of the Democratic Socialists of America and state Senate candidate Jabari Brisport picketed outside Councilmember Laurie Cumbo’s residence. We demanded she support $3 billion in cuts to the NYPD, which represents half of its budget. We thanked her for taking the first steps toward re-imagining public safety in New York City and we respectfully presented our demand for further action.

Reform cannot fix this institution.

Instead of considering the cuts, the councilwoman has spent the past 5 days maligning Brisport and accusing DSA of asking too much. Her response reveals how poorly our elected officials understand the scope of the problem with the NYPD. 

To make New York a safer place for all, we must grapple with the reality that the police are actively hostile to our black and brown neighbors. Every interaction — whether at a protest or a routine stop — increases the risk of violence. Too often, it’s a brush with death. And while the police are tasked with problems we wish to see solved, they have proven unable to do that work effectively and equitably. 

In New York, murders are less likely to be solved if the victim is black or Latinx, or lives in a poor neighborhood. For victims of sexual assault, police routinely mishandle evidence, diminishing prosecutors’ ability to hold assailants accountable. The NYPD underreported rapes by 38 percent from 2012 to 2019 and only made arrests in 45 percent of cases in 2018. In the very moments where the police have the opportunity to live up to their stated ideals, they consistently let us down. 

We’re calling for a 50 percent cut to the NYPD’s budget not just out of principle, but because it’s the only way to curtail our out-of-control police force. Decades of reform under Democratic, Republican and independent mayors alike have only led to more money being spent on increasingly militarized policing. Yet, as we dramatically increase their funding, we’ve done nothing to stamp out the culture of violence that pervades the department.

Cumbo claims that she’s doing enough to address these problems, repeatedly citing her work to pass the Chokehold Ban Bill. But we kid ourselves to think that reforms will even begin to curb police violence. The NYPD banned chokeholds in 1993, yet Daniel Pantaleo still murdered Eric Garner two decades later. 

Reform bills have no teeth when our police refuse to be held accountable. Body cameras are meant to provide transparency, yet they are routinely turned off — or never turned on — without consequence. As police endure the greatest public scrutiny they’ve experienced in decades, officers choose to illegally cover their badge numbers to avoid accountability. 

As its response to recent protests have made clear, the NYPD views itself as an occupying army, answerable to no one. Reform cannot fix this institution, so our only option is to defund. We shouldn’t have to convince the City Council of this — they should know better than anyone that we cannot afford more half measures when it comes to reigning in law enforcement. 

As the budget deadline approaches and pressure to address the NYPD budget grows, elected officials have scrambled to placate the protesters who continue to fill the streets. 

Mayor de Blasio has promised to cut the NYPD’s budget by an unspecified amount, offering vague promises of change. Cumbo sides with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in calling for a $1 billion cut out of a $6 billion yearly operating budget. That’s not nearly enough — in fact, it would only take the NYPD’s budget back to where it was when de Blasio took office. It would leave black and brown New Yorkers at a continued risk of police violence and shortchange the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have protested week after week for lasting and meaningful change. 

Cutting the NYPD’s budget in half will free up money to fund the services that need it most. And while the NYPD’s budget is a financial strain on New York taxpayers, it is also a reflection of our priorities as a city. Clearly, Councilmember Cumbo’s priority is giving a pass to the ever-more militarized police force terrorizing our streets. The brutality towards our black and brown neighbors is the human cost of legislative inaction. 

If the Councilmember listened to activists, she would understand that the NYPD has proven time and time again that it does not deserve taxpayer dollars.

Candidates like Brisport are boldly envisioning what the world will look like when we defund the police. It’s a world in which we fully fund education, parks, housing, health and social services, all of which are threatened under de Blasio’s austerity budget. It’s a world in which police are seen not as a cure for society’s ailments, but as a measure of our failure to invest in our communities. To build this world, we need to increase funding to the services whose budgets have long been under siege. As the City Council looks desperately for funding, we offer up the budget of the NYPD. 

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