Testimony: Invest in People, Not Policing and Criminalization
Justice Committee testimony submitted by JC Member Olivia Adechi for the New York City Council Public Safety Committee's hearing on Mayor Adams' Gun Violence Blueprint on March 30, 2022
My name is Olivia Adechi. I’m a representative of the Justice Committee, a grassroots organization with an almost 40-year history of organizing and supporting families who have lost loved ones to the NYPD and survivors of police violence. I’m also a resident of Flatbush and grew up in the Bronx.
Addressing violence and building safe, healthy and empowered communities is of the utmost importance to the Justice Committee and has been at the core of our work for almost 40 years. Expanding the NYPD’s power and role in our daily lives and imprisoning vulnerable New Yorkers will do the opposite. It always has.
Unfortunately, this is what Mayor Adams’ Gun Violence Blueprint does. In spite of naming gun violence as a public health crisis, the Blueprint takes the exact opposite approach: it increases policing, surveillance, and the criminalization of poverty, homelessness and mental illness, and calls for expanding the power of the state to lock people up. While the Blueprint and the mayor’s comments surrounding it give lip service to community investments as a solution, such investments are secondary in the document itself and absent from the mayor’s preliminary budget. If New York City pushes forward with Mayor Adams’ plan, it will only amplify and enhance a system of poverty and inequality that has already been amplified by the pandemic.
Invest in People, Not Policing and Criminalization
With his flooding of more officers into our neighborhoods, revamp of the Anti-Crime Unit, renewed focus on Broken Windows Policing, and attempts to roll back bail reform, discovery reform and Raise the Age, Mayor Adams is trying to solve gun violence with more violence.
This has never been and will never be a real solution. Over-policing and mass incarceration erode the social and economic fabric of communities, which, in turn, pushes community members to engage in survival economies, exacerbating the safety issues we seek to address.
From 2017 to 2019, I worked for an organization that served youth in the South Bronx. I remain in contact with multiple community members to this day. During the time I worked there and the following years, there were multiple shootings, of and by young people. What people who are only looking at it from a distance don’t see is, these were young people trying to figure out what to do to get their needs met. If we want to end gun violence, we have to meet people’s needs. We must invest in non-law enforcement solutions and quality jobs, housing, education, and healthcare for the most impacted communities.
In his Blueprint, the mayor promises “unprecedented” increases to employment opportunities for young people yet the increase for the Summer Youth Employment Program in his preliminary budget is woefully inadequate. On top of this, we have yet to locate the promised investments for non-law enforcement violence intervention programs in his budget proposal.
Care, Not Criminalization, for those Struggling with Mental Health Issues and Substance Use Disorders
I recently supported a friend through a mental health crisis. As a Black person, I refused to call 911 because it is not a safe decision. I could not find services that would treat my friend with the dignity and care they need and deserve. As a housed, employed person, I felt completely stuck. I can’t even imagine trying to navigate the system if I was also unhoused and/or otherwise under-resourced.
The Blueprint uses “Expanded Mental Health Care” as the title for a section that is largely an allusion to the mayor’s plan to expand the use of Kendra’s Law to force more New Yorkers into treatment and institutionalize them against their will. Yet, support for the kinds of mental health services our communities really need are absent from the mayor’s preliminary budget, which not only fails to increase investments in mental healthcare, but cuts an important mental health program for seniors.
Making those who are struggling and suffering disappear is not the answer. We need never-before-seen investment in mental health services that are community-based, culturally competent, non-coercive, and people-centered.
The entire country looks to New York City to be a leader. Right now, with Mayor Adams’ Gun Violence Blueprint, NYC is leading the way back to an archaic, abusive approach.
A transformative approach to public safety would include:
Historic levels of investment in non-law enforcement violence intervention and prevention programs. Such programs must focus on reducing youth and other community members’ interactions with the NYPD and criminal legal system, not on collaborating with them.
Historic levels of investment in services and infrastructure for the communities most targeted by the NYPD, most impacted by the pandemic, and most plagued by gun violence, including:
Developing a new mental healthcare system that is community-based, culturally competent, and non-coercive and includes preventative and post crisis care and wrap around services.
Fully funding SYEP and year-round job opportunities for youth and adults.
Increasing resources for guidance counselors, social workers, and restorative justice programs in schools to help keep youth safe and out of contact with the criminal legal system.
Investing in truly affordable housing for all.
Ending the reliance on over-policing and criminalization by:
Immediately withdrawing the Neighborhood Safety Teams and ending Broken Windows Policing.
Removing the NYPD from mental health response, homeless outreach, youth engagement, schools and other social service roles. Increased contact with police has detrimental effects on mental health. It’s, therefore, counterproductive and illogical to try to embed mental health services within the NYPD, as with co-response teams. Additionally, enmeshing the NYPD in homeless outreach and youth engagement only serves to criminalize poverty and ensnare vulnerable New Yorkers in the criminal legal system.
Focusing on police accountability, not over-policing: the cost of abusive policing is astronomical. Every year, NYC spends hundreds of millions of dollars to keep abusive officers employed and payout police misconduct-related civil suit outcomes. Even as the revamped Anti-Crime Unit - aka Neighborhood Safety Teams - hit our streets, tax payers are still being forced to the pay the salaries of the officers who murdered Delrawn Small, Eric Garner, Allan Feliz, Kawaski Trawick, and Antonio Williams, whose families have been demanding their loved ones’ killers be fired for years. It’s irresponsible to flood more officers - especially in the form of these notoriously brutal units - into our communities, without first addressing the lethal outcomes of NYPD contact and the force’s systemic lack of accountability.
I am here today to call on the City Council on behalf of the Justice Committee to turn away from the failed, abusive approach to public safety embedded in the mayor’s Blueprint and his preliminary budget. Instead, work with grassroots organizations, like JC, that are accountable to those most impacted by police violence and gun violence, to develop a new public safety strategy that is based on principles of equity and ensuring all New Yorkers have the resources, infrastructure and services we need to thrive. Until there is a plan that is rooted in these key elements, New Yorkers will continue to be harmed by police, crime, and by Mayor Adams’ failed, outdated and barbaric approach to public safety.