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City Hall protesters interrupt PA Jumaane Williams press conference seeking end to gun violence

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and anti-violence groups such as New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and Street Corner Resources held a rally Monday in Lower Manhattan to respond to the Fourth of July shooting outburst across the city.

But the proceedings were interrupted by a handful of City Hall protesters still upset over a lack NYPD reform and community investment in the recently passed fiscal year 2020-21 budget. “You don’t speak for us,” Shermain Laster, 45, shouted. “I’ve been down here for fourteen days protesting against police brutality… you haven’t been here.” 

The momentarily tense situation was de-escalated by Williams, Bronx/Westchester Congressional candidate Jamaal Bowman and Iesha Sekou from Street Corner Sources.

As things settled one protester, Laster, was invited to speak at the podium alongside Williams. 

Shermaine Laster, 45, was one of a handful of people who interrupted Williams’ Monday press conference on gun violence. ( Photo by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech)

The passionate exchange, Williams said, was interconnected to the recent surge in violence occurring across the city, and he said it was representative of its solution. 

“We need leadership, the violence is too much, the police will play their part, the groups will play their part, electeds will play their part, we need the resources, we need the funding, we need the political courage and political will to address the pain we heard today,” Williams told reporters outside of 1 Centre Street.  

Before the interruption, Williams called on New York City residents, police officers, agencies and elected officials to come together to come up with solutions for the root cause of a recent uptick in violence in the city after a “particularly rough” Fourth of July weekend. 

Just after fireworks stopped early Sunday morning, a series of shootings killed 9 people and injured another 41 across the five boroughs. Between Friday and Monday morning, 45 shootings occurred in the city with at least 63 people injured, according to NYPD. 

The holiday weekend marked the third week in a row that the city has experienced an uptick in shootings following weeks of protests calling on police reform and an end to police brutality sparked by the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd. 

Police unions have blamed the very recent increase in violence Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s week-old deal to “cut” $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion annual budget. 

On Monday, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea followed that login and said that the NYPD would need more resources in order to combat the recent surge in crime. 

The budget has received enormous pushback from activists and some elected officials for “not going far enough” in terms of police reform and for using fuzzy math to come up with the $1 billion in “cuts.” 

As part of the “cuts,” the city agreed to move the NYPD’s school safety officers to the Department of Education. However, the DOE sends the NYPD roughly $300 million a year to run the department’s school safety program. Another “cut” includes reducing the NYPD overtime by $350 million. 

But according to Williams and those speaking alongside him the cause of violence in the city is more complicated. Not only does it have to do with the number of officers on patrol, their relationship with the community but also about a lack of community resources. 

“If we are not honest about the story behind this increase in the numbers we are going to be dishonest about the approach we take to bringing them down,” said Williams. “If we only stick to one theme we are going to have difficulty moving this public safety conversation along.” 

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