By Drew Davis
The City Hall Occupation as of Friday, June 26, at the Brooklyn Bridge City Hall 456 subway stop. The vast majority of protestors were masked and socially distanced.
Between June 23rd and 24th, City Hall Park transformed from a quiet green space into an occupation for racial justice. I headed in to learn why New Yorkers were flocking in, and their goal was clear; spur the NYC city council and someone whose name rhymes with Pill le Clasio to defund the NYPD by 1 billion dollars (16% of their 2021 budget) and reinvest this money in resources like education and housing to eliminate socioeconomic determinants of crime. Some background: the NYPD leads the nation in police officers per 10,000 residents, and headcount increased by 3,000 in the last 6 years despite historically low crime rates, according to StreetBlog.
This demonstration was a microcosm of the protests occurring over the last 6 weeks. A protest is an opportunity to speak out against injustice, but it’s also a place to learn about different perspectives on the same systemic issues. I spoke with Q, a bright-eyed 20-year-old black man with something to say.
So what’s going on? Why are you here today?
“A lot of reasons. You could say reparations, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, all the other people murdered by the police, but this is bigger than that. And I say murdered—killed, shot, nah—it’s murder. They’ll tell you that protesting and breaking the peace isn’t helpful, but isn’t it the only reason I’m able to talk to you right now? My ancestors, they rioted and protested. Some of them even looted. And I don’t say that that’s all the ‘right’ way to it, but they got things done.
I’m here for the LGBTQ community too. That’s another group that’s been oppressed since the segregation times. I’m not just here for Black Lives, but black lives need to matter right now. Like people say, all lives can’t matter until we do, you know what I’m sayin? Not too long ago we was 3/5ths of a person. And to the police today, we still aren’t ‘full’ people. They’re still living by that law. So I’m here to change that.”
Why do you protest?
“I like a saying I heard once: ‘this is a nonviolent protest but it’s not peaceful.’ This particular black person, this specific one, isn’t going to be tossed around, be treated any type of way. Those officials in city hall look like you (I’m white), and they look like me, but I’ll be out here until they actually represent us and what we need.”
That reminds me of something I think about. Not all cops are white, and some are black—what’s their mindset like? What’s your perspective?
“Even if they look like me, if they still got jobs like that, they’re always the enemy in my eyes. I’m not saying they were bad when they joined, but they saw the job, what police officers do, and it’s not good. Once you become a cop, I lose all respect. Because as a cop, your integrity doesn’t matter when you willingly joining a system that doesn’t tolerate speaking up to say ‘that’s not right.” At that point you do an immoral job for money. That’s prostitution. That’s a system we can’t keep pouring billions of our dollars into.”
The last thing I saw before leaving that day was a demonstrator take the megaphone and begin to organize occupiers. But I had no idea how comprehensive these efforts to build an occupation community would be. When I returned 2 days later I found a remarkably coordinated and sustainable community, equipped with stations for:
- First aid, PPE, and sanitization
- Voter registration and census assistance
- Daily education sessions and speakers on systematic racism
- A shared library
- Artists for George Floyd
- Community gardening
- Calling representatives
- Laundry land, coffee town, snack land, hot food and clothing exchange
- 250+ socially distanced people listening to a talk on the community value in funding CUNY programs.
The other purpose of this occupation dawned on me. It’s not just meant to shine a light on injustice. It’s to enable black joy, its own kind of resistance, to take a moment from a life with darker skin that can be stressful and depressing. It’s to set an example of a community taking care of itself without relying on police officers. The July 1 budget is worth watching.