This week will mark two months since Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe. Community Board 8 Manhattan is eager to create a new overall committee to explore and discuss issues around public safety in light of the massive demonstrations organized by Black Lives Matter that took place in the aftermath of Floyd's death. 

Around the country, there have been calls to defund the police by shifting money from police budgets into a variety of different social service programs to reduce poverty and provide job opportunities.

In late June, the Minneapolis City Council voted to approve a proposal that would eliminate the existing police department and replace it with “a department of community safety and violence prevention, which will have responsibility for public safety services prioritizing a holistic, public health-oriented approach.”

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Also, the New York City Council voted on June 30 for an $88 billion budget that shifts $1 billion out of the NYPD's $6 billion budget to other agencies as well as youth and social services programming.  

CB 8 Manhattan member Billy Freeland started the discussion last night on how the board can work together to organize either one overarching virtual event or a series of events in the coming months.

“There’s a lot of talk about bail reform, there’s a lot of talk of defunding the NYPD and what does that mean. A lot of people automatically think that defunding means no funding as opposed to a budget cut,” said Freeland.

He added, “The larger point I want to underscore is I think we can really drive a larger conversation around what does public safety mean in the year 2020.”

He believes that most people have a cramped definition of public safety, often thinking about it strictly in terms of the NYPD’s role in law enforcement as opposed to, say, a public safety policy that emphasizes youth and employment programs, education programs, mental health and investments in communities.

“I think there needs to be a broader conversation that defines public safety and almost looks at it through a public health lens,” Freeland said.

The committee members would have to decide whether to hold a series of individual events or one large event that encompasses all the topics surrounding the issue of public safety. Either way, Freeland noted, it’ll be important to incorporate a variety of different voices.

For example, he’d like to invite someone from the 19th Precinct, as well as someone from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and a public defender.

“I also would urge us to include a formerly incarcerated person and I would urge us to include someone with expertise in social services.”

Last night's discussion to formulate the new committee has proven timely. Just earlier this morning, the NYPD cleared out an encampment near City Hall made up of protestors who called for the defunding of the police.

The new committee will be co-chaired by board members Anthony Cohn and Wilma Johnson.