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Occupy meets BLM: Protesters camp outside New York’s City Hall, demanding $1bn cut from NYPD budget

Occupy meets BLM: Protesters camp outside New York’s City Hall, demanding $1bn cut from NYPD budget
Hundreds of protesters have been camped out in front of New York’s City Hall for the past two nights, vowing to “occupy” it until Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees to cut $1 billion from the police budget and give it to social services.

The demonstrators set up camp in a park adjacent to City Hall on Tuesday evening and were still there as of Thursday afternoon, pledging to occupy the space until a sixth of the New York Police Department’s $6-billion budget is slashed. The money should be redistributed to community and social services, as well as healthcare and education, they say.

The group’s demands have support from New York’s City Council, which has also proposed a $1 billion cut to the NYPD budget. However, de Blasio has balked at the sum, despite agreeing weeks ago to cut an unspecified amount from the agency budget and to reinvest it in social programs.

Organized by VOCAL-NY, a progressive advocacy group focused on ending mass incarceration, the AIDS epidemic, and the war on drugs, the demonstration isn’t exactly settling in for the long haul. The city’s budget is due on June 30, meaning they have only another five nights of camping ahead of them at the most. But the activists are making the most of it, putting up banners, holding teach-ins, and leading chant after chant.

Black Lives Matter protesters have raised calls to defund the police across the country, amid massive nationwide protests against police brutality. Sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the demonstrations have been marked by a heavy-handed police response and occasional outbreaks of mob violence, raising tensions in communities already battered by the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

While New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently threatened city bars and restaurants with punitive measures over their apparent failure to enforce social distancing and mask rules on their patrons, coronavirus regulations don’t appear to apply to the City Hall encampment. The authorities, eager to lock down local playgrounds and harass parents for fear of children spreading Covid-19, have taken the opposite approach to the street-packing protests, allowing the decidedly un-social-distanced demonstrations to continue without interference – a double standard that has puzzled and enraged many New Yorkers.

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Cuomo has passed several police-reform measures, officially banning the type of chokehold that killed Eric Garner in 2014, repealing a statute that kept police disciplinary records private, requiring cops to report gun discharges within six hours, and designating an independent prosecutor to investigate killings of unarmed civilians by police. However, many activists criticize the moves as being too little, too late, pointing out that Cuomo previously stood in the way of the same reforms he now champions. 

Meanwhile, police have complained that both the new laws and the suggested budget cuts will make it impossible for them to keep New York safe. The NYPD has recorded 125 shootings already in June – the highest for the month since 1996, and Commissioner Dermot Shea blames bail reform and the pandemic’s impact on the criminal justice system for allowing dangerous individuals to walk the streets unimpeded.

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