AnalysisNew York Citypolice brutality

Defund the NYPD! Demilitarize our public spaces! 

Photo: NYPD makes arrests at a pro-Palestine demonstration in January. Credit: Wyatt Souers

The New York City Police Department is one of the most militarized police departments in the entire country, in its size, funding, and equipment. For decades, members of NYPD have traveled to Israel to train with Israeli forces, often adopting their tactics of infiltration and surveillance. And despite claims from right-wing politicians and pundits, we have not defunded the police in any way. If anything, many police departments have seen an increase in their budgets since the summer of 2020. And while the NYPD’s budget on paper has remained relatively unchanged, the department has historically blown way past its budget every year for 20 years

It is outrageous that billions of New York City taxpayer dollars every year are spent on the NYPD in order for them to terrorize protestors, the poor, and the homeless.

NYPD crackdown on pro-Palestine protests

Despite what Mayor Eric Adams may claim, an overly armed and overfunded NYPD hasn’t made our streets safer. Often, it’s instead translated into more violent interactions and arrests, especially at protests. This includes a controversial practice known as kettling or the trapping of protestors for arrests. Last fall, the NYPD agreed to reform tactics used to police protests in a legal settlement with the New York Civil Liberties Union. Originally, the NYCLU brought a lawsuit against the department due to its violent response to Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020. 

The settlement placed limits on the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group, a rapid response unit formed to ostensibly combat terrorism that the NYCLU has described as “notoriously violent.” Most notably, the NYPD promised to no longer deploy the SRG at protests. However, that promise was short-lived as NYCLU protest monitors soon spotted SRG officers responding to pro-Palestine protests with excessive force, including punching a protestor in the face and brutally arresting demonstrators.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, the second top-ranking official after the Mayor, has recently spoken against the “highlighted misuse of and misconduct by the NYPD [SRG]”. He condemned the unit for escalating nonviolent protests into violence and called for them to be removed from policing protests. 

The reoccurring violence at protests does not appear to be a symptom of “violent protestors,” as NYPD may claim. Rather, it is responding officers who are often the agitators. To simply call it a “troubling pattern,” when the NYPD has a track record of treating people so violently as to induce epileptic seizures, in 2020, in February, and again last month, is an understatement. 

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been the first large-scale test for the NYPD since BLM protests in 2020. Drones have been deployed to monitor protestors while officers have engaged in dramatic and violent confrontations with protestors and members of the press alike. Kettling is also back in use by the SRG against protesters, even after it was banned as part of the settlement with NYCLU.

As Israel continues its genocide in Gaza, it appears demonstrations and clashes with the NYPD will continue for the foreseeable future as the mass movement for Palestine grows and refuses to back down in the face of police repression.

NYPD crackdown on the poor

When police aren’t terrorizing protesters in the streets, they can be found raking in overtime in the city’s subways, arresting those for such trivial offenses as fare evasion and sleeping or loitering in subway cars. The funneling of billions of dollars into the NYPD has been accompanied by Mayor Adams’ own “crimewave” propaganda campaign, resulting in a broader crackdown on homelessness and poverty, especially in the subways. This campaign depicts the unhoused as dangers to society who must be removed from public life for the safety of all other New Yorkers. 

To this, Adams has flooded stations with police and is now extending shifts to combat the supposed rise in crime. However, according to statistics, subway crime is actually trending downward. Not only that, but statistics have shown that the homeless are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes than assailants. In fact, the number of homeless people murdered in New York City jumped by 300% between 2018 to 2021. At the same time, Adams in 2022 cut $615 million from the Department of Homeless Services — what amounted to 20% of its overall budget.

Already, the NYPD can be seen all over, on platforms, and by subway entrances watching turnstiles for fare evaders. This has only cost taxpayers more while sacrificing other essential services, like libraries.

Governor Kathy Hochul seemed to at least partially acknowledge this, as she described her decision to deploy the National Guard in New York City subways as more of a psychological crutch and political statement to “demonstrate that Democrats fight crime as well.”

That hasn’t stopped the wave of backlash that Hochul received over the decision, from both civil rights groups and even current and former NYPD officials. The optics of heavily armed, active duty soldiers in combat fatigue have been so bad that the governor has now banned the National Guard from carrying military-grade “long guns” at bag check stations. Guardsmen at other locations will still be armed, though.

Clearly, all this is political theater. The militarization of the subway system did nothing to stop a dramatic shooting that took place in March on an A train in downtown Brooklyn. In fact, subway passengers fleeing the shooting were essentially trapped in the station, forced to exit single file through one turnstile due to the exit gate being locked to prevent the “crime” of fare evasion. The dark irony here also is that the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, where the train pulled into just as shots were fired, has a built-in police precinct.

Defund the NYPD, fight for socialism

Our public spaces belong to us — not the police and most certainly not the National Guard, who now have the authority to turn away riders who refuse a bag check. Militarizing subways and our neighborhoods not only doesn’t make us safer, it often makes us less safe, with people of color disproportionately affected and over-policed

Instead of over-funding the police and bringing the literal military into our public spaces, we need a major re-investment in public services, from public schools to more trained mental health professionals and social workers. Investing in and developing education and economic programs will not only benefit working-class families today, it can lead to fewer offenses and run-ins with law enforcement down the line

And above all else, we need also to address the root cause of poverty: capitalism. It is capitalism that treats housing as a profit-seeking commodity rather than a social necessity, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless across the United States. It is capitalism that criminalizes poverty and funnels Black and brown youth into the mass incarceration system, often for trivial offenses. And it is capitalism that relies on racist police terror to enforce its property relations. Let’s fight to defund the NYPD — along with building a mass movement to overturn the system of exploitation which produces poverty and homelessness in the first place.

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