In the summer of 2019, New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner James ONeill fired the officer who killed Eric Garnerwho died while being crushed by police attempting to arrest him, while he repeated, I cant breathe. In response to the officers termination, police threatened a slowdown in protest, as they did five years earlier, after Garners death, when protesters took to the streets. Arrests and summons dropped, and so, too, did reports of major crimes. Less policing made the city no less safe. Without meaning to, police provided a case study for police reform advocates.
The coronavirus pandemic has also led to such a drop in policing and in crimesone reason why the Policing & Social Justice Project has called for the city to cut the current $5.6 billion NYPD budget by $1 billion over four years. Police overtime accounted for $728 million in 2019, wrote the projects coordinator, Alex Vitale, in the New York Daily News, while New York City spends more on policing than it does on the Departments of Health, Homeless Services, Housing Preservation and Development, and Youth and Community Development combined. The pandemic only helps make the case that money spent on police work that does not keep the city safe is far better spent on protecting New Yorkers by improving health care and housing.
Its not an unprecedented restructuring of city priorities: For the last few years, activists in Austin, Texas, including groups like the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC), have pressed the city to cut police budgets and reduce the number of police. They pushed for the city council to vote down the police associations contract, launching their campaign during the budget session, wrote Sukyi McMahon and Chas Moore of AJC, so that our demands would interrupt the flow of money into the department. The contract the council later passed priced out at $44 million, half of the [police] associations $82.5 million bid. They continue to push the city council, advocating that it assign emergency medical services to respond to mental health calls instead of the police and reallocate $1.75 million from the police budget to emergency serviceswhich would also cut 30 police officers.
In Durham, North Carolina, activists successfully campaigned through the city budget process and won zero police expansion, as the coalition Durham Beyond Policing described it. We crafted a strong proposal for why we need Durham to invest in life-affirming services, not an unjustified expansion of the police force, its spokeswoman Manju Rajendran told Indy Week. The groups proposal begins by asking, What does public safety look like? This is the shift needed in debates over police killings. In delegating safety to cops, what communities really want and need gets left out. Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson has echoed their points, writing of the decision not to fund new police officers, The safest communities dont have the most cops; they have the most resources.