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Protesters launch first night of #OccupyCityHall to pressure city into NYPD budget cuts

Jawanza James-Williams from VOCAL-NY (right). Photo by Mark Hallum

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH AND MARK HALLUM

Roughly 100 people who participated in a City Hall protest Tuesday afternoon have set up camp near by, at the corner of Centre and Chambers Streets, hoping to pressure the city into slashing the NYPD’s 2021 budget by $1 billion. 

Protesters said they are prepared to camp out next to City Hall until the City Council makes good on the Mayor’s promise to slash NYPD funds and to enact other policing reforms after weeks of protests across the city against police brutality sparked by the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. Normally, the NYPD’s budget runs at $6 billion.

To Jawanza James-Williams, organizer of the demonstration with VOCAL-NY, the police department does not take a constructive role in substance abuse, homelessness or mental health complexities. When it comes to responding to people experiencing mental illness, James-Williams said that too much funding go toward cops with an annual $6 billion budget, while only a fraction goes to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“We’ve called people here today to articulate what $1 billion can actually do for communities and we’ve decided to stay camped here until they do that because the budget is going to be sealed by the 30th and we want to make that the whole world knows that [Mayor Bill de Blasio and Johnson] are the ones responsible if we don’t see a reduction in the NYPD budget,”  James-Williams told amNewYork Tuesday evening.

Demonstrators are saying that they are willing to “occupy City Hall”, or essentially live next to the building, until the city’s June 30 deadline to pass next year’s fiscal budget. 

It is unclear though if protesters taking part in #OccupyCityHall will create encampments similar to those that protesters made in Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. So far, the crowd of demonstrators are sitting peacefully, creating signs and planning the logistics of how to get more bodies to the scene. 

As the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May continues to make rippling effects across the country, Johnson has backed a slew of law enforcement reforms such as criminalizing the use of chokeholds by police and has backed the plan to reduce the NYPD budget considerably in the days remaining.

As of 7:25 a.m. on Wednesday, protestors were still at the location.

One of the ways Johnson and City Council have identified for slashing NYPD costs in the fiscal year 2021 budget is through cutbacks in staff, not through layoffs but through attrition, cutting overtime and removing NYPD from certain responsibilities. While some, such as the Traffic Enforcement Agents, have spoken out against being absorbed back into other agencies such as the city Department of Transportation, the Speakers office has said they will not be the target of uniformed headcount reductions.

Photo by Mark Hallum
Photo by Mark Hallum

Updated at 9:55 a.m.

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