NEW YORK – New York City lawmakers approved an austere budget early Wednesday that will shift $1 billion from policing to education and social services in the coming year, acknowledging protesters' demands to cut police spending — but falling short of what activists sought.
The vote by the City Council came at an extraordinary moment when the nation's biggest city is grappling with a $9 billion revenue loss due to the coronavirus pandemic and simultaneously with pressure to cut back on policing and invest more in community and social programs.
Protesters have been camped outside City Hall, insisting that the city slash $1 billion from the New York Police Department’s budget amid a nationwide campaign to “defund” police — a movement animated by outrage over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of police.
Critics of the deal said the billion dollar cut wasn’t a billion dollar cut at all. Some of the funding reduction, they noted, was merely shifting police functions like school safety to the Department of Education. And they doubted the promised reduction in overtime would ever happen.
Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the $88.2 billion spending plan. Council Speaker Corey Johnson said when the budget deal was announced Tuesday that it wasn't what he had hoped for, and lamented he hadn't been unable to negotiate a bigger police budget cut.
“I am disappointed,” Johnson said at a news conference. “I did my best.”
The proposal did little to assuage the demonstrators. Many said they intended to stay outside City Hall indefinitely.
“We are being gaslit," said activist Jawanza James Williams. “This movement is about so much more than the $1 billion, and this means they don’t understand what we’re saying.”