Anti-police activists began camping near New York City Hall Tuesday night, saying “we aren’t leaving” until $1 billion is cut from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget.
With six days until the municipal budget — proposed to be about $89.3 billion — must be finalized, about 100 people sat on a grassy triangle and benches near City Hall Park in lower Manhattan.
The demonstration comes amid weeks of local protests that followed the bystander-recorded death of George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer was filmed kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes.
"BREAKING: NYC City Hall is occupied! The city budget is due in ONE WEEK and we aren’t leaving until $1 Billion is cut from the NYPD budget. #DefundNYPD," read a tweet Tuesday night from the group VOCAL-NY.
A tweet posted by VOCAL-NY at 5:22 a.m. showed people sleeping on a grassy area with tarps and a hammock and said, "The Sun is rising on @NYCMayor’s inaction, and on us that are occupied outside City Hall."
By law, the city budget for the upcoming fiscal year needs to be enacted by June 30.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose office is in City Hall, said June 7 that some money from the NYPD would be shifted to youth and social services, but he hasn’t said yet how much.
Asked Wednesday at his daily news conference whether he would cut the $1 billion as demanded, de Blasio said, “What amount of money, how, is still being worked through." He noted recent discussions of shifting some NYPD functions to other agencies, but said, “I cannot tell you what the final dollar figure will be.”
He added, “I think the important thing here is to get it right, meaning, I want to see re-prioritization to young people for sure, and I want to make sure we’re safe.”
Just after midnight Wednesday, anti-police signs and banners hung from trees and were held skyward in activists’ hands. Several bicycles had placards in the spokes bearing the names of black people killed in confrontations with the police.
"SHAME ON BILL DE BLASIO AND ALL UNDERWRITERS OF THE FASCIST POLICE STATE," read a banner tied to a tree, as the activists ate pizza, held signs, and listened to Beyoncé. The group steadily grew in size as more people arrived on foot and by bicycle. Nearby, representatives from the National Lawyers Guild, a left-leaning legal group, appeared to be negotiating with an NYPD supervisor and NYPD lawyer.
The NYPD’s presence near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge had dwindled by last week — it had hundreds on standby at the peak of the unrest sparked by Floyd's death — but was beginning to ramp up once again as the activists assembled.
“This is a city that for generations has respected the right of people to peacefully protest but, again, has to be done safely, has to be done with rules that make sense, and so NYPD will address the situation,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “They’re very familiar with how to handle something like this the right way, respect people’s rights but also make sure public safety and other public needs are addressed. They’ll work this through as the days go ahead.”
Since the 1800s, City Hall and the surrounding blocks have been a place of protest and unrest about policing — for, against and even among the cops.
During this month’s Floyd protests, there have been dozens of gatherings there that continued elsewhere in the city.
"Defund the police, give that money to community," hundreds sang on June 9, at the spot where activists are now assembled. "Till black people free, we are rising up in unity."
The Great Police Riot of 1857 pitted officers from competing police forces — predecessors to the NYPD — against each other on the City Hall steps.
In 1992, as many as 10,000 off-duty cops who disapproved of the then-mayor’s plan for a civilian watchdog over the NYPD blocked the Brooklyn Bridge, broke through the gates, and rioted. Among those cursing the mayor at the time was Rudy Giuliani, through a bullhorn. The mayor — David Dinkins, the first black person to hold the office — said some in the crowd were calling out racial slurs.
"The emotional level did get a little out of control, but sometimes if emotionalism is not evoked publicly," the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association labor union said then, "the responsible elements of the community do not listen."