City Hall Park is occupied. Protestors of all genders, ages, and races sit on the ground with their friends, conversing, playing their guitars, or eating the free pizza and fruit from the newly set-up tables. Perhaps most notably, they hold up images of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Tamir Rice with cardboard signs reading #BlackLivesMatter and #DefundThePolice.
Since Tuesday evening, protesters have taken over the space outside the center of the city government, demanding a budget cut of at least $1 billion to the NYPD, reinvesting it into “housing, health care, education and social services.”
Jawanza Williams, Director of Organizing at VOCAL-NY, “a statewide grassroots membership organization that builds power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war, mass incarceration, and homelessness in order to create healthy and just communities,” spoke with Kings County Politics about the goals of the protests.
“Policing is inherently a racist system. It’s inherently a classist system. It literally has its origin in capturing black people seeking their freedom and bringing them back into captivity to be maimed, killed, raped, and their identities destroyed and erased,” said Williams.
He then explained that the city budget would be finalized on June 30. While the City Council, including Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Midtown West, Chelsea, West Village) is behind the protestors’ proposed budget cuts, Mayor Bill De Blasio (D) is still on the fence about them.
Williams continued, indicating that the measures he and the other protestors were calling for are a crucial part of efforts to take down racism in American politics and society.
“The U.S. has a problem with a culture of violence, and the institution of policing, especially the NYPD, has a culture of annihilation, especially when it comes to black lives,” he said. “It’s part of all the systems and ideologies that are creating the crises and chaos in our society. If we humanize black people and understand that black lives matter, then we understand we cannot have policing as an institution.”
When asked about public safety risks that police usually handle, such as bomb threats and traffic issues, Williams explained that there can be other ways to address them. “I don’t think that every mode of creating and maintaining safety for our people has to be done by police,” he said.
“We need to create policies and a culture that centers our most vulnerable people, and whenever we have ways to keep them safe, then we’ll have ways to keep everyone safe, and if everyone is not safe from the police, then we know that the police are not the solution. They haven’t been for 200 years.”
Williams then proudly asserted that defunding the police would help give those committed to combating anti-blackness unprecedented influence. “Power is only built in two ways in society, and that’s massive amounts of money or massive amounts of organized people, and we’re taking advantage of our people power. “That’s what democracy actually looks like.”