The following is the response from Councilmember Lander to the tens of thousands of people who have reached out to his office urging the City Council to defund the NYPD. First sent on June 9, 2020.
Thank you for reaching out to my office to urge the City Council to defund the NYPD, to protect the rights of protestors, to invest in our schools and not the NYPD, and to pass legislation curtailing the NYPD’s unchecked powers. In response to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I am inspired by the outpouring of calls and emails (more than 42,000 by last count!), by all the people who have lobbied me while marching in the streets over the past two weeks, and grateful for your advocacy.
I am fighting for $1 billion in cuts to the NYPD this year, and I am committed to voting no on a budget that does not make significant cuts to the NYPD.
I will also be voting yes on several pieces of police reform legislation coming before the Council next week (to make chokeholds illegal, strengthen the requirement that officers not cover up their name and badge number, adopt a police disciplinary matrix, establish an early intervention system for officer misconduct, and codify people’s right-to-record interactions with police). And I have also supported full repeal of 50-A (which hides police disciplinary histories from the public) by the State Legislature for several years, and I am glad it is finally coming to fruition.
I’ve been working on police reform for much of the past decade, generally following the leadership of Communities United for Police Reform, and often working in partnership with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, including passage of the Community Safety Act to establish the NYPD Inspector General, prohibit racial profiling, and combat discriminatory stop-and-risk. But if I’m being honest, I have to acknowledge that our well-intentioned incremental reforms have produced far too little (I reflected on some that here). The time has come for bolder action. It is time to defund the police and reimagine our public safety infrastructure.
One element of this is just dealing with the fiscal reality our city is facing: in the midst of a fiscal crisis when we are slashing funding for youth jobs and education, with a hiring freeze on teachers, social workers, and counselors, we cannot afford to hire 2300 more police officers, as the Mayor has proposed.
But we need to go beyond that. I am looking at proposals for further cuts and talking to my colleagues about what we can do on excessive overtime, and pulling back the NYPD’s expansion into homeless outreach, mental health response, and other social services. I am glad that Communities United for Police Reform and so many of you are setting us a $1 billion goal to work towards. I will push us to go as far as we can in the next few weeks of budget negotiations, and I won’t vote for a budget that does not include deep and significant cuts.
In the longer term, what we need is a fundamental re-thinking of the public infrastructure for achieving safety in our communities, as the Minneapolis City Council (which includes several of my friends through the organization Local Progress) announced this week.
Emergency mental health responders, not armed police, should be the ones to respond to people in distress. Speed cameras that don’t racially profile or escalate confrontations should do traffic enforcement. Social workers and nurses should be in the halls of our schools providing support and care, rather than uniformed officers. Trained survivors and advocates with experience helping people get out of unsafe relationships should respond to domestic violence calls. Even on confronting gun violence, NYC’s “cure violence program” has invested in organizations of credible messengers — often people who have been involved in gang activity themselves — to identify and engage individuals most likely to be involved in gun violence and to defuse conflicts before they escalate, with great success. Imagine if we invested in these programs as our public safety infrastructure, rather than small pilot programs.
Let’s be clear: it is because of the massive organizing and public outcry in response to the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd (following on so many more lost lives, Eric Garner, Mohammad Bah, Delrawn Small, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and so very many more) that the possibility for transformative change exists. I’ve been inspired to take part in many actions, and to do my best to help make sure people’s rights to free speech and peaceable assembly are respected. And I’ve been deeply angered by the way the Mayor and the NYPD have treated peaceful protest, responding with aggressive and sometimes violent policing. On Saturday, I visited One Police Plaza to investigate reports of dangerous and dehumanizing conditions of detained protesters, and have followed up with the NYPD and City Hall to demand accountability on this issue.
I hope to continue this work with you in the coming weeks, and months. If you want to continue to hear from my office on a regular basis, you can sign up for our emails here.