New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Sunday defended the strategy his city’s police force used over what he described as a “long, complex week” of unrest, while outlining steps he said would be taken to address demands for change.
Speaking during a morning news conference, he said his administration is committed to shifting funding from the New York Police Department to youth initiatives and social services. Details will be worked out in the city’s upcoming budget process, he added.
“While doing that, we will only do it in a way that we are certain continues to ensure that the city will be safe,” de Blasio said.
The police department will also stop handling enforcement of street vendors, an issue he said was important to the immigrant community because it is “people creating their own business, trying to experience some version of that American Dream that often feels elusive lately.”
Additionally, the city will hire community ambassadors who can bring residents’ concerns to “the highest levels of the New York Police Department.” De Blasio also said he will support changing a state law that shields police disciplinary records.
The mayor announced those measures while facing questions about his response to the protests and discord. Some have criticized the city’s recent curfew as unnecessary and police actions as overly aggressive.
De Blasio said the city was contending not with exclusively peaceful protests and civil disobedience, but also with a “different element” — unseen in decades — in which “a small, committed group of, let’s call them anarchists,” was bent on violent acts. Working-class communities were among those hurt by that element, which he said was present in cities across the United States.
“It is absolutely inappropriate and immoral for anyone to go to a protest to harm another human being,” de Blasio said. “It doesn’t represent any progressive values that I know about.”
He said he had made decisions, including imposing the curfew and authorizing the police department’s strategy, based on protecting lives and property. There were times in the past week, he added, when a loss of life seemed “damn close to happening.”
As for videos appearing to show police using aggressive tactics against peaceful protesters, de Blasio said individual incidents will be investigated. But he cautioned that footage doesn’t always show the whole picture.
“ ‘Apparently’ is a really key word here,” he said. “Sometimes, we saw a video that was part of what happened.”
The situation grew more manageable each day, the mayor said, and there have now been five days of predominantly peaceful protests. He said Saturday was “the best by far — the biggest number of protesters, fewest arrests, fewest problems,” which convinced him to lift the curfew.
He said he hopes it is “the last time we’ll ever need a curfew in New York City.”