NEW YORK: New York City lawmakers have approved a disputed annual budget that purports to slash US$1 billion from the NYPD as calls by anti-racism protesters to defund law enforcement sweep the US.
“Defund the police” has become a rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that erupted following the killing in custody of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
Protesters have camped outside New York’s city hall this past week demanding that money be shifted from America’s largest police force to social services to help fight racial injustice.
Late Tuesday, members of New York’s city council approved the government’s budget for the new fiscal year starting Wednesday that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says cuts the NYPD’s operating budget from about US$6 billion to roughly US$5 billion.
The cuts include scrapping the planned hiring of about 1,160 new police officers, as well as reducing overtime costs and redeploying administrative staff.
President Donald Trump lashed out at the cuts and the city’s plan to paint a Black Lives Matter sign outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
“Maybe our GREAT Police, who have been neutralized and scorned by a mayor who hates & disrespects them, won’t let this symbol of hate be affixed to New York’s greatest street,” he tweeted.
De Blasio hit back, saying black people built 5th Ave and so much of this nation.
“Your ‘luxury’ came from THEIR labor, for which they have never been justly compensated,” he wrote.
Some council members argue the budget does not cut US$1 billion from the NYPD and accuse the government of just moving money around.
They point out that roughly US$400 million of the cuts come from shifting responsibility for protecting public schools from the police to the education department.
Brooklyn councillor Brad Lander said he was voting no to the budget because it did not propose “real, meaningful cuts”, including a hiring freeze on cops.
The NYPD has approximately 36,000 police officers, more than any other force in the US.
It faces criticism for using force against largely peaceful protesters who demonstrated against the death of Floyd on May 25. De Blasio defended the heavy-handed tactics.
Activists outside city hall said they did not believe the cuts were genuine.
“I feel like this city council is making a mockery of our demands. They say that they’re going to defund the police but they’re just finding sneakier ways to fund them,” 17-year-old Mary-Kate Mahaney, told AFP.
The annual budget for New York has been slashed from US$93 billion last year to US$88 billion due to the Covid-19 outbreak that has crippled the Big Apple’s economy.
De Blasio recently estimated that the epidemic, which has killed approximately 22,000 NYC residents, has cost the city US$9 billion in lost revenues.
The mayor says that another US$1 billion in labour savings needs to be found in the budget or 22,000 employees face being laid off in the fall.