The following is based upon a talk given by Sasha Murphy at a Party for Socialism and Liberation national webinar on June 18.
Millions of people have taken to the streets in what was initially a reaction to the lynching of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police department. In New York City, there have been multiple demonstrations daily for three weeks. But because the ruling elite were so unwilling to meet the simple demand of sending the killer cops to prison and bringing all who were involved to justice, the resistance and anger of the masses grew, and in these past few weeks so have their demands.
Defunding the police has now become a central demand and focus of the movement. But what exactly could defunding the police look like?
In New York City, where I organize, the New York Police Department, AKA the NYPD, is so vast that, if compared to armies around the world, it ranks as one of the world’s strongest militaries. It has 55,000 employees, 72 percent uniformed, more than half the countries in the world. It has a huge number of vehicles and it’s fleet of 9,000 armored vehicles ranks it sixth in the world. It even has its own navy. The City Council’s 2021 fiscal budget has allocated the NYPD a whopping $10.9 billion.
In April, the height of the pandemic here, NYC Education Chancellor Richard Carranza announced that public education would face devastating budget cuts. Some $1.3 billion is to be cut from the already struggling budgets of education and social services. The result in education alone will be a freeze in teacher hiring, further delay in expanding highly sought-after pre-kindergarten programs, cuts to pensions and benefits for teachers and staff, and the potential disappearance of college access programs. These are only a few of the areas affected.
This is a stark contrast to the NYPD, which has seen a steady increase to its budget in the past decade. The NYPD budget has increased nearly 30 percent since 2010. Nearly half of the police budget alone is allocated to pensions. Please keep in mind that a cop with a long history of brutal terror and yes, even murder, is still entitled to receive their pension. And when is the last time any of us heard of a police hiring freeze?
In this city there are more than 78,000 people who are either in shelters or street homeless. The Department of Homeless Services lacks the resources to find adequate housing as its budget is one of the smallest in the entire city.
One-in-four people were not able to pay their rent on June 1. Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill De Blasio and the City Council are fully aware of the repercussions of the so-called rent moratorium, which end June 20, and unpaid rents become due. Since the city and state have refused to cancel rents, mortgages and evictions, the city may see many evictions and a huge spike in homelessness.
As a result of mounting pressure from the uprising against racism, the New York City Council has proposed cuts of $1 billion from the NYPD budget. But let’s not forget $1.3 billion in cuts to education and social services was casually announced in the midst of a pandemic when it was needed most.
That is not enough!
NYC right now is faced with unprecedented numbers of unemployed people. We are going to see thousands if not millions of families evicted from their homes if a rent cancellation is not declared. The inability of the city’s hospitals to handle the pandemic cast a light on the effects defunding public health, as the numerous public hospitals were closed in the last two decades due to cuts. Had they remained open, thousands of deaths could have been prevented.
Social programs are always on the chopping block, but never the police budget. We need education funding, job creation programs, health care, affordable housing, The City University of New York, which was once free, could see a tuition drop instead of an increase. This is just to name a few areas that need funding.
The politicians and corporate media will tell us that it is not possible, we are asking for too much. They will try to convince us that crime will go up as a result of cutting police budgets and putting that money into social services. But often times crime is directly linked to poverty or the criminalization of poverty where small misdemeanors like jaywalking, spitting on the sidewalk or selling loose cigarettes determine if someone lives, dies or ends up incarcerated. The real solution to decrease crime is to dramatically cut the police budgets and eliminate a racist police state. Over-policing and mass incarceration have not stopped crime — they’ve only exacerbated it.
Our people are no longer interested in lip service that barely offers us the crumbs of capitalism. This is a fight we have the strength and power to win. Defunding the police is the stepping stone to defunding the capitalist class entirely.
As Fred Hampton once told us, “If you dare to struggle, you dare to win!”