New Yorkers remain anxious for new leaders to address the city’s issues with policing. After it was revealed that de Blasio’s NYPD budget cut might not have been as significant as he claimed it was and some communities feeling warier than ever following violent clashes with police during last year’s peaceful protests, the city is reckoning with new tension in police and civilian relations. But this month’s primary offers an opportunity for the incoming class of politicians to do what their predecessors did not: assess the needs of individual communities and the role and scale of policing within them.
In Bushwick, two major city council races could decide the political temperature of the neighborhood and the city as a whole. In the city’ 37th district, a hotly contested race is barrelling towards its conclusion as incumbent Darma Diaz goes head-to-head with Sandy Nurse and Rick Echevarria, both of whom were unceremoniously kicked off the ballot last year. And in the 34th district, Jennifer Gutierrez says she’s hoping to win in an area that encompasses Williamsburg, Ridgewood, and north Bushwick.
The city council hopeful was among the first residents of Hope Gardens, one of two NYCHA complexes in Bushwick. The background is integral to his approach, as he details not only how he would work towards harm reduction within policing, but how that plays a larger role in housing and housing injustice, specifically here.
“I would also go as far as proposing that every police precinct have a housing police unit that works 24-hours a day wherein this unit would have personnel trained in housing law intervene in housing-related calls for police assistance,” Echevarria said. “It has been my experience that police are very unprepared to intervene in housing-related conflicts between tenants or between tenants and landlords, which is a very common problem, especially in gentrified communities.”
Across the gerrymandered line is another aspiring council member: Jennifer Gutierrez, who currently works as chief of staff to the 34th district’s current representative, Antonio Reynoso. A native of Queens and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, Gutierrez has a rich history of activism and a decade-long career in politics. For her, the conversations surrounding policing are rooted in community.
“I would prioritize investments to be made in communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by policing,” Gutierrez told Bushwick Daily. “We need to significantly reduce the role the [police] play in our schools, hospitals, streets, and subways and reallocate that funding towards trained professionals, health workers, social workers, and guidance counselors.”
Gutierrez also believes that criminal justice reform means better services for children, like accessible childcare and structured, safe environments for them outside of school. “I envision a City that talks about criminal justice reforms characterized by investments to social services over increased policing,” she said. “It means ending the school to prison pipeline and reducing the barriers that the poor and people of color have to housing, healthcare, and jobs.”
Both candidates touched upon a recent experiment that the NYPD’s 73rd precinct, which sits in Brownsville, ran last December. Called the “Brownsville Safety Alliance pilot,” it involved community organizers replacing police officers in a high-crime zone on Mother Gaston Boulevard for certain periods over a five-day stretch. According to Terrell Anderson, a deputy inspector at the precinct, it was both a huge success and a case study in how violence interruption efforts could become a larger part of city policing. Echevarria and Gutierrez saw it as a positive and hopeful experiment and one they would urge the police to embrace if elected. But city council doesn’t have very much direct power to change police policy on its own. Working in tandem with the mayor’s office and comptroller is how budget reform is attained.
Last month, the Instagram account @justiceforgeorgenyc released a detailed explainer on where all of the mayoral hopefuls stood on policing. One of the frontrunners, Andrew Yang, took stances against police and corrections officers’ unions, but supported building four new jails in place of Rikers and also supported police presence in mental health emergencies. Businessman Ray McGuire and former NYPD captain Eric Adams were the only candidates to accept donations from officer unions, though Yang’s campaign is run by consultants who work for Tusk Strategies, which also represents the city’s central police union, the NYC Police Benevolent Association. The mayoral hopefuls to score the highest were Dianne Morales, Maya Wiley, Paperboy Love Prince and Joycelyn Taylor.
Like Gutierrez and Echevarria, Taylor told Bushwick Daily that she believes in reallocating excess funding to communities and is focused more on end results than slogans. “I’m looking at the long-term solution,” she said. “We need a combination of better policing and a total restructuring. You have to ask: Why are these things only happening in certain communities?”
Taylor, who grew up in a NYCHA complex herself, feels strongly about investing in housing and families. “If you can only survive in this city on overtime, when do you have time to parent?” she asked. Skimming the NYPD budget would mean “trickle-down economics for the layman.”
Taylor would work to fund public schools and create programs meant to help high schoolers find employment. For her, reforming our criminal justice system is a rounded approach that starts with investing in families and children and ends with building relationships with the communities that officers police. “You have to have communication,” she said.
On the subject of community investment, several advocacy groups such as VOCAL-NY and United for Police Reform convened earlier this month for the unveiling of murals at Goodwin Place in Bushwick ahead of the 2022 city budget vote. The organizers used the event to call for a $1 billion divestment from the proposed $5.44 billion NYPD budget this year. The five artworks depict what defunding NYPD and reallocating funding would mean for affected communities. The imagery includes an armored person with a hand outstretched at police saying “We protect us,” and young men and women enveloped in technicolor and flowers; scenes of abundance and spring.
With 2020 in the rearview and a spate of important elections on the road ahead, New York City’s rebound will happen as (arguably) the most significant transfer of power in a century unfolds. With public housing, social services, and policing hanging in the balance, a changed city looks cautiously ahead to the polls and at those lobbying for votes. And whoever carries the torch next for these offices, they must assume another responsibility altogether: that of the people.
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