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LOOK WHO'S SQUAWKING: Mayor de Blasio took most of the early heat from the protesters who decamped in City Hall Park to increase pressure for large Police Department cuts, but when the group saw it wasn't getting everything it hoped for, some members turned nasty, harassing City Council Members and provoking confrontations with police. And so the morning after the budget was passed, the Mayor called the graffiti one of them sprawled on the Surrogate's Court building 'unacceptable and inappropriate,' then added, 'A protester who says nasty, vile things to a police officer is degrading their own movement.'

By a 32 to 17 vote, the City Council approved an $88.1-billion budget which exhausts $4 billion in city funding reserves and cuts spending on the NYPD by close to $1 billion.

The deal, which represents a $7.2-billion reduction from Mayor de Blasio's February spending plan, came after fevered negotiations between the Council and the Mayor that were heavily influenced by pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and about 500 protesters who camped out at City Hall demanding that the city “defund the police” in the aftermath of a Minneapolis Police Officer's alleged murder of George Floyd.

Reflects Federal Aid Stall

The austerity of the hazily defined spending plan reflected the lack of progress in the U.S. Senate on a stimulus program aiding states and localities suffering from steep revenue losses due to the coronavirus.

Ultimately, the projected NYPD cuts include a 25-percent reduction in overtime, the gradual shift of School Safety Agents to the Department of Education, and the canceling of a 1,163-recruit police class this month.

Traffic Enforcement Agents, who at one point seemed headed for Department of Transportation jurisdiction, will stay within the NYPD, a win for the unions that represent them.

Comptroller Scott Stringer blasted the budget deal because it was not responsive to protesters’ demands for a comprehensive overhaul of the NYPD. "The '$1 billion cut' to the NYPD proposed by the Mayor and the City Council is not a $1 billion cut—it's a bait and switch and a paper-thin excuse for reform," he said in a statement.

Williams's Tax Threat

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams threatened to invoke an obscure provision of the City Council Charter requiring that he sign off on tax warrants required for the city to collect property taxes unless the city moved more quickly to a “restorative-justice” policing model. Mr. de Blasio, a former Public Advocate, said Mr. Williams had misinterpreted the statute.

“The Mayor has very much bungled this conversation,” the Public Advocate told reporters. “If we are doing hiring freezes, then an agency like the NYPD shouldn’t be golden.” He was referring to the fact that a police class scheduled for October remains intact as does one set for next year.

In a press conference before the budget vote, Council Speaker Corey Johnson sounded defensive when he reflected his past vote in 2015 to expand the NYPD but said he wished this year's cut to the department had been deeper.

“I am not a [police] abolitionist, but I do think this moment in America and our city is about re-envisioning what policing looks like in a meaningful way…There are a bunch of cops that shouldn’t be cops and we need a better way to get rid of them,” Mr. Johnson said. “I think we should have done a full hiring freeze. I think we should have canceled those two additional [NYPD] classes.”

The spending plan leaves open the possibility that the Mayor will have to make good on his threat to lay off 22,000 workers unless he gets $1 billion in unspecified concessions from city unions.

MLC Not Happy

Municipal Labor Committee Chairman Harry Nespoli accused the Mayor of trying to address budget problems "on the backs of labor. It is particularly ill-conceived now given that this same municipal workforce has continued to work day-in and day-out during the pandemic at great risk to themselves and their families, with some sadly making the ultimate sacrifice...Plainly, federal assistance is needed—and warranted—so that we can work collaboratively to meet this challenge."

But Henry Garrido, the executive director of DC 37, which represents 120,000 city employees, praised “the Mayor and the City Council for coming together with a difficult budget” while saying in a phone interview that his union would “remain vigilant” against layoffs.

In the days before the final budget vote, the negotiations were the focus of an around-the-clock presence in City Hall Park by protesters who pledged not to leave unless the Council enacted a budget that cut the NYPD by $1 billion.

Even as the City Council was deliberating on the budget, a clash with the NYPD occurred June 30 shortly after sunrise when police attempted to clear protesters who had moved outside the park and were blocking traffic on Chambers St. By then, Several Council Members seemed less charmed by the energy of the protesters after receiving what they said were threatening phone calls demanding they "defund the police."  

Speaker's Partner Targeted

Adding to the atmosphere of a siege was an attack by vandals who spray-painted "ABOLISH" on a residential property owned by Speaker Johnson’s partner, Ernest Martin, in Williamsburg.

“I want to condemn what happened at your partner’s residence,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the Finance Committee, during a leadership press conference. “I have also had people outside of my apartment protesting, which is one thing but I have also had people in that same protest come into my private building and bang on my door. And someone else tweeted out the phone numbers, the private phone numbers of Council Members.”

The debate over how to refashion the NYPD exposed fissures between abolitionists and black Council Members who accused them of trying to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I would have a lot more respect for the level of protests if it were coming from individuals who had been established community activists working within our community in order to provide safer and more equitable communities,” said Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo. “These are individuals that have never been seen before or active before. This sprang out of the Black Lives Matter Movement and now this movement is not being led by the black community or black voices.”

'Want a Police Presence'

Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a deputy leader, was also on the Council leadership virtual press call.

She told reporters she had also been subject to late-night phone harassment where she and her family where threatened by individuals who felt the Council was not being aggressive enough in cutting the NYPD.

“In communities like mine where you have residents that want to see a policing presence, they also want to see a difference in how we respond to the issues in our communities like underemployment, like unstable housing,” she said. “These are the same communities that struggle with violence because in the past our only solution has been more cops and more cops, and that has not proven successful.”

Ms. Gibson said the Council was expanding a pilot project that used a multi-disciplinary public-health response to violence from five to 26 neighborhoods. The Council also scrapped cuts in the Summer Youth Employment Program proposed by Mr. de Blasio, allowing it to employ 35,000 people.

Must Strike a Balance

“We have to get to the root cause [of violence], she said. “It is not the police’s job to deal with issues in our community like youth programming, like poverty…So when I say that a majority of the residents in my district have been asking for a police presence it is because they don’t feel safe.”

She continued. “They want that [NYPD] presence but they also want the programs that young people need so that they are not idle in our communities and they have more programs that are engaging them in a really productive and positive manner."


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