Hundreds of Occupy City Hall protesters demand NYPD cut budget by $1bn

Black Lives Matter

As city officials prepare to vote to a budget for the 2021 fiscal year, protesters have been camping outside of City Hall in lower Manhattan for just over a week, demanding that the New York City council reduce the $5.7bn New York police department budget by $1bn.

After weeks of protests and collective outrage over police killings of black people, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, hundreds of New Yorkers have flocked to City Hall Park, covering ground day and night, to echo the demand to defund the city’s police.

The occupation began last Tuesday, ahead of the city’s 1 July budget deadline, when a group of about 100 protesters parked themselves outside City Hall. In just a week, the protest has grown dramatically in size and also changed in strategy – with some activists now saying they will continue to camp out at the park past the budget deadline.

The protest – dubbed Occupy City Hall – quickly became a well-oiled operation. By night, veteran organizers and first-time activists slept on a small patch of grass or spread out over tarps and blankets across the park; by day, volunteers distribute free food and water, man welcome tables and a community library, organize sign-making and lead meditations, play music and listen to speeches, and more.


Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protestors congregate at City Hall in New York City Monday.

Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protestors congregate at City Hall in New York City on Monday. Photograph: Erik Pendzich/Rex/Shutterstock

Spray-painted slogans – like “We keep us safe” and “Fuck the police, free the people” – have appeared on the sidewalk outside City Hall. As the protest has taken shape, organizers have remained focused on their demand. “We’re not at city council for our health,” said Jonathan Lykes, the co-founder of the Black Youth Project 100.

City council is expected to vote on a budget before midnight on Tuesday, and the current plan reportedly on the table has been criticized by protesters and progressive city council members alike as not going far enough.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has backed a plan to reduce the city budget by $1bn – but around half of those cuts are accomplished by reallocating school safety officers from the police to the department of education, according to the New York Times.

In light of Tuesday’s budget decision, the future of Occupy City Hall remains unclear. “Hopefully we win,” says Lykes, “but we know that our efforts are not won even if they do reduce the budget.”

Celina Trowell, an organizer with VOCAL New York, described the mayor’s proposed budget as “moving [money] from one system of oppression to another”. She added, “That’s not enough, and that’s not what we’re asking for.”

The Black Youth Project 100 and Vocal-NY are two of the four activist groups that initially led the City Hall Park occupation, according to Lykes, along with Organizing Black and the Afro-Socialists caucus of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

But the scope of the project to defund New York City’s police may be growing, as some activists push back on the idea that a $1bn budget reduction is a meaningful concession from law enforcement. Lykes says that if protesters want to continue occupying the park beyond 1 July, “we’re going to encourage them to”.

Lykes said neither the mayor nor the city council speaker, Corey Johnson, had visited Occupy City Hall – but a small handful of other local politicians and public figures had. DSA member Jabari Brisport, who ran against incumbent Tremaine Wright for state senate earlier this month, stopped by the protest, along with the public advocate, Jumaane Williams, and former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon.

“I think there was an error,” Williams said in a video that appeared on social media on Monday. “We said take a billion dollars from the NYPD, not the department of education!”

“I don’t think we ever trust politicians to be our saviors,” said Lykes. He believes the occupation is likely to continue, in some form or another: “We’ll probably have to escalate our tactics and disrupt more spaces and put more pressure on them throughout the year to get what we want.” He added that at its core, the movement as he sees it is concerned with creating “a new system of public safety”.

“The longterm goal is creating alternative systems that actually work for our people,” he said. “We want our tax dollars to go into those efforts, not systems that are oppressing us.”

The Guardian

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