Black N.Y. City Council Members Claim Progressive Calls to Defund Police ‘Have Overshadowed Our Fight’

In the wake of calls to address racism and police brutality, some black and Latino lawmakers in New York and New Jersey are urging their colleagues to pump the brakes on proposals to slash police department budgets.

City councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, a liberal Democrat who represents a West Bronx district where over half of residents are Hispanic and 40 percent are black, said her constituents “want to see cops in the community.”

“They don’t want to see excessive force. They don’t want to see cops putting their knees in our necks,” Gibson said. “But they want to be safe as they go to the store.”

New York City passed a new budget last month that cut $1 billion from the police department budget and re-purposed the funds for education and social services. The decision came amid calls from activists to slash even more funding from the police budget and as the city suffers a $9 billion revenue loss due to coronavirus lockdown measures.

“I don’t want anyone to misunderstand and think that we don’t care and that we have not been working our behinds off to get to a place of equity,” Gibson said in early July when the city’s new budget was passed, adding that communities must not be “left behind with crime, violence, illegal guns in our communities, no programs, no activities, and no hope for a better tomorrow.”

Laurie Cumbo, the city council’s black Democratic majority leader who represents parts of several Brooklyn neighborhoods including Bedford-Stuyvesant, compared the demands of activists to “colonization.”

“These are individuals that have never been seen before, active before,” she said. “This takeover is very similar to many of the movements that we’ve seen in colonization.”

Alicka Ampry-Samuel, a black councilwoman who represents Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhoods, expressed concern that the new voices pushing for reform could overshadow those in her community.

“We have fought for police reform and more funding every single budget cycle,” she said. “This debate is not new to me. What is new are the additional voices of concern added to the conversation, which at times have overshadowed our fight.”

Other black and Latino council members, including Antonio Reynoso of Brooklyn, who represents the more gentrified areas of Williamsburg and Bushwick, were more open to cutting funding to the NYPD.

“We have wrongly been told our whole lives that police keep us safe,” Reynoso said.

In New Jersey, Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, the state’s largest city, dismissed calls to dismantle police departments as a “bourgeois liberal” solution to the problem of racism.

“I think it’s kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” said the Democratic mayor, who is black.

“I think there needs to be significant reforms,” he continued. “To get rid of the police department — who would respond to calls for service for violence and domestic abuse?”

“At the end of the day, I think that the city and the residents here need police officers in their communities,” Baraka said.

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