Black Lives Matter protesters set up camp in New York
By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York City firefighters and police confront autistic squatter Matthew Mishefksi (C) after he was found lying naked the public fountain in Washington Square Park in New York City on 29 June 2020. EFE/EPA/JASON SZENES
Members of the NYFD (New York Fire Department) take autistic squatter Matthew Mishefksi (C) to an ambulance after he was arrested by New York police for lying naked the public fountain in Washington Square Park in New York City on 29 June 2020. EFE/EPA/JASON SZENES
By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York, Jun 29 (efe-epa).- The protests against police brutality and racism that erupted after the murder of African American George Floyd by a white Minneapolis cop have resulted in demonstrators setting up a huge camp before the New York City Hall, where for a week they have been demanding sharp cuts in funding for the city's police department and a change in municipal priorities.
"We're asking this year that they withdraw at least, and at a minimum, a billion dollars from funding for the (New York) police," the annual budget for which amounts to some $6 billion, Celina Trowell, one of the organizers of the protest, which coincided with the official announcement by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio that he will support those cuts, told EFE.
In front of a book kiosk set up by several volunteers offering books related to civil rights for the African American community and indigenous peoples, Trowell said that they want to ensure "that that money is taken from the police because that money allows them to keep perpetuating the system of structural racism on which the police is based."
In a communique, Vocal - the non-governmental organization to which Trowell belongs and which on Tuesday headed the initiative to stage a sit-in in front of the City Hall - rejected the proposal the mayor was making and called it a "betrayal" of the movement.
In a brief communique, the organization said that its members were "serious" about their demands for upcoming budgets and the agreement in question was "not even close" to what they were seeking.
The request to take funds from the police, which materialized during the protests held all over the city, was backed by part of the City Council - with the head of the local Assembly, Corey Johnson, and the spokeswoman for the majority Democratic Party, Laurie Cumbo, in the lead - but until Monday morning De Blasio, also a Democrat, had eyed it hesitantly.
On Monday, however, De Blasio said that his office had presented to the City Hall a plan to "save" a billion dollars by transferring it from the police budget to help deal with a number of issues that "we know" are the causes of many problems in the city.
Nevertheless, Vocal said that De Blasio's plan preserves the resources and the power of the police without laying off any of the department's personnel and continues with the mayor's initial proposal to starve the communities devastated by the coronavirus.
A diverse conglomeration of people, signs, slogans and political demands, campaign tents, sleeping bags, about a dozen information and other service booths are jamming the square in front of City Hall, which the current occupants have dubbed "Abolition Square."
"Although here we have a multiracial crowd, this is a direct act of black leadership, which has been headed by black organizers like me, and we don't want that to be lost sight of," Trowell said.
There are so many people and so much activity on the site that it is difficult to fixate on anything in particular there. Several booths are offering free food and non-alcoholic beverages, another table is providing information to people who have just arrived there and at yet another facemasks, hand sanitizer and assorted medications are being distributed to the demonstrators.
Also established on the square is a laundry service and a list of local businesses that have opened their restrooms to the demonstrators.
A young American of Peruvian descent identifying himself only as Javier told EFE that Latin Americans and/or Hispanics in general are also suffering in the US but not as much as the blacks.
"Until the blacks are free, we will not be free," he said, before insisting that the lives of black people are important and adding that he was participating in the protests because he wants to see things change.
Many of those present are determined to continue with the protest despite the fact that their main demand has been met.
A sample of that is that at a "Popular Assembly" meeting here, which kicked off just after noon on Monday, it was noted that the Occupy Wall Street protest sit-in in 2011 lasted for three months with an eye toward eliminating corruption from the system, and a safety committee was set up to resolve assorted problems at the campsite and to teach people various techniques to protect themselves from the police during a police operation against them or if they are arrested.
The head of the group, who identified herself as Line, told EFE that several people like her, with experience at similar protests, had joined forces to help in organizing the sit-in with an eye toward ensuring that it can keep going.
"There are many things you have to know when you occupy a site. It implies various risks and I want to help people know how to behave in those situations," said Line, adding that during the nights between 500-600 people are sleeping on the site.
At the Popular Assembly, with a microphone in one hand, one organizer shares with those present the short-term demands of the protesters, the long-term demands and the "ambitious demands" on which the protesters are trying to find consensus.
Some of the demands can be read on many of the signs distributed around the square, including a big one saying "Black Lives Matter" next to which about a dozen empty mattresses have been placed.
Besides withdrawing a certain amount of funding from the police, the protesters are demanding that those funds be invested in health care, housing and education and for certain prisoners to be released, among other things.
"This is just the beginning. ... We're going to continue asking for more," Trowell said.