We can address poverty and public health concerns by providing people the housing, social services and care they actually need—and by divesting from policing and incarceration.’

Adi Talwar

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of police fueled a movement across the country to defund the police. His death focused public attention on municipal budgets, bloated police departments, and decades of divestment from Black and brown communities. Now, following the murder conviction of Derek Chauvin (and the police killings of Adam Toledo, Daunte Wright and Ma’Khia Bryant), New York City is fast approaching a budget deadline for leaders to decide whether to continue the tragic reliance on policing and incarceration, or turning the page to invest in what communities actually need.

Last month, VOCAL-NY called on leaders to take action by supporting a Caring and Compassionate New Deal for New York City. The plan is based on a simple premise: we can address poverty and public health concerns by providing people the housing, social services and care they actually need—and by divesting from policing and incarceration. Now, we are calling on the City Council to deliver a down payment towards that vision in the City’s budget.

Today, 78,000 New Yorkers are living in shelters or on the streets—and every six hours, a New Yorker dies of preventable overdose. At the same time, $14 billion in New Yorkers’ tax dollars continue to prop up the city’s system of law enforcement, courts and corrections through policing, criminalization and incarceration. Not only does this bring more tragedy and harm to our communities—we know the city’s reliance on police and incarceration to manage homelessness, substance use, and unmet mental health needs has proven to be totally ineffective.

In June, the city will pass a $95 billion budget that will finance the first six months of the next mayor’s administration. In addition to a massive city budget, billions of dollars in federal COVID relief will be delivered in the coming months. New York City must begin a long-term reorientation of city government and major shifts in city spending, beginning with defunding $4 billion from the NYPD, District Attorneys, Corrections, and the total elimination of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor—the only office of its kind in the United States, created in 1972 following Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs.

Our demand to defund the police, courts, and jails goes hand-in-hand with our demand for investments back into communities to fund the things that make communities safe (and police and policing obsolete) in the first place. The city must invest $4 billion for housing, social services, and care. The most impactful intervention to improving health and care outcomes is providing housing that meets each New Yorker’s needs. We must also ensure that anyone struggling with substance use, or unmet mental health needs, are not met with police, but instead have easy access to quality social services and care.

We’ve witnessed the worst consequences of criminalization. We’ve seen the NYPD murder Black men facing mental health crises. We’ve seen victims of the Drug War incarcerated and their lives destroyed in the process. We also know the worst consequences of communities not getting what they truly need—resulting in homeless New Yorkers murdered while sleeping on trains or in Chinatown, and people dying of overdose on the streets of our city. We simply cannot continue the status quo of tragedy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was quick to use Derek Chauvin’s verdict for political expediency. The very next day he pledged millions of dollars for a new NYPD precinct and called it a community investment—a slap in the face to activists fighting for racial justice across the country. This is the kind of leadership that has perpetuated police violence for generations, and perpetually underfunds New York’s long-neglected communities.

As leaders share statements to honor George Floyd’s life, let’s demand they have the political courage to fight for the radical economic and political transformations that would have ensured George Floyd and so many others were alive today. Let’s demand that our government build the caring and compassionate city, that every New Yorker deserves.

Paulette Soltani is the Political Director of VOCAL-NY.