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People protesting against police brutality in Manhattan on June 2. Photo: Christopher Lazzaro/Alive Coverage/Sipa USA). Credit: Sipa USA/Alamy Live News.

Thousands of Art Workers Call for NYC to Defund Police, Invest in BIPOC Communities

Nearly two thousand art workers have signed an open letter demanding that Mayor Bill de Blasio defund the New York Police Department and invest in marginalized communities that have been historically overpoliced. The letter—which expresses outrage over the mounting examples of police violence that occurred throughout New York City as thousands protest the death of George Floyd—joins numerous calls in the ongoing campaign to reduce or eliminate the budget of the NYPD. Many New York protesters celebrated their first victory Sunday night, when de Blasio vowed to divert funding from its $6 billion budget to social services. While he did not mention a specific amount, the mayor said that he would work with the City Council on revising the city’s budget by the July 1 deadline. 

“In a time when it has become clearer and clearer that your policies and the policies of your predecessors have failed us, consistently compromising the safety and health of Black and brown people, we write to make a plea for you to act in solidarity with the ongoing Black and brown movements around the nation,” reads the letter, which is addressed to Governor Andrew Cuomo, de Blasio, and police commissioner Dermot F. Shea, as well as to district attorneys Darcel Denise Clark, Eric Gonzalez, Melinda Katz, Michael McMahon, and Cyrus Vance Jr., and is dated June 3.

“As artists and arts workers, we have the responsibility of imagining and manifesting new and better worlds. In line with this work, we demand the immediate decrease of police presence in response to the #BlackLivesMatter protests, and subsequent divestment from the police and investment in Black communities.”

The document states that entire police departments and not just individual officers need to be held accountable for police brutality; that the NYPD must withdraw from police militarization programs; and that community review boards should be empowered to make disciplinary judgments in excessive force and police misconduct cases. It also demands immediate relief for black and brown communities in the form of rent and mortgage cancelation, a moratorium on utilities, and debt forgiveness, as well as long-term policy solutions such as universal health care and universal basic income.

“We, the co-signers of this letter, stand with protesters around the city and nation in demanding deep, systemic change for our communities’ fundamental rights to life,” the document concludes. “We are of and for the people. We are only few of many who have no choice but to demand a better future. We will no longer be brushed aside.”

Also dated June 3, an open letter by two hundred current and former mayoral staffers calls for the NYPD’s budget to be slashed by at least $1 billion in the 2021 fiscal year, the firing of NYPD officers who have used excessive force or covered their badges at protests, the release of official disciplinary records of all NYPD personnel, and the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the response of the mayor’s office and the NYPD to recent protests. 

The plan is conservative compared to the City of Minneapolis’s pledge to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. After Floyd was killed by MPD officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, nine City Council members decided that the department was no longer viable. Speaking at a community meeting yesterday, council president Lisa Bender, who described the city’s relationship with the MPD as “toxic,” said that the city will “re-create systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.”

For New Yorkers fighting for racial justice, a number of institutions including MoMA PS1 and the Brooklyn Museum—as well as theaters like Metrograph, Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, and the Atlantic Theater Company—are participating in #OpenYourLobby, creating safe spaces for protesters seeking restrooms, water, Wi-Fi, or shelter.

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