By Todd Maisel
About 100 people who camped out Tuesday night at City Hall to protest police brutality and calling on the city to slash the NYPD budget by $1 billion were still there Wednesday morning. But it left many of them asking “Where’s the bathroom?”
Some of the protesters who slept there overnight found the bushes in City Hall Park behind the Department of Education as a place to relieve themselves, but those gates were closed this morning.
“I’m still holding it from last night,” gasped one demonstrator who spent the night in a sleeping bag on a triangular grassy knoll at Chambers and Centre Street.
One leader of the demonstration asked the public to provide a portable bathroom before the issue becomes more serious. In the meantime, demonstrators admitted there was no easy solution as they were providing gallons of coffee to the demonstration participants.
Some demonstrators joined the encampment this morning, a contingent of police officers standing away from the group guarding the fences around City Hall. But many of those still there were either still sleeping on the ground or in hammocks hooked to trees and benches.
“We have enough people in the streets, and maybe the marches are getting a little old. And so instead of rioting and breaking s–t, we are trying this and that’s kind of a ramp up,” said Eb Fower of Michigan, an unemployed boom operator. “It’s pretty peaceful and well supplied but we need more people and hopefully they will trickle in later. It does feel like we are gaining some ground on the issues and physically gaining ground by holding this park.”
Shannon Penney, an unemployed producer from Westchester County, joined the group this morning and set up her blanket on the north end of the triangle.
“I follow #justiceforGeorge and saw they were looking for bodies here, and I’ve been waking up early since March when I lost my job, so this is the job now – it is the best use of your white body now,” Penney said.
Joe Loonam, the housing campaign coordinator for VOCAL New York, a group that tackles subjects such as mass incarceration, AIDS, homelessness, and seeks legislation and policy changes, said the protest has received much support.
“What we are arguing is that police are not immune from the cuts that every other service has seen,” Loonam said. “The city should prioritize spending money on things and people with long term care. There is a lot of homelessness out there the police have been doing street sweeps for decades and they clear the subways every night at 1 a.m. – any DHS worker will tell you unless they are given resources to provide people with permanent housing it means nothing.”
Demonstrators are saying that they are willing to “occupy City Hall,” or essentially live next to the building, until the city’s June 30 deadline to pass next year’s fiscal budget. But again, leaders are calling for help with the sanitation issue moving forward.
It is unclear though if protesters taking part in #OccupyCityHall will create encampments similar to those that protesters made in Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. So far, the crowd of demonstrators are sitting peacefully, creating signs and planning the logistics of how to get more bodies to the scene.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May continues to make rippling effects across the country, Council Speaker Corey Johnson supports a slew of law enforcement reforms and has backed the plan to reduce the NYPD budget considerably in the days remaining – by how much is still being negotiated as 90 percent of the NYPD budget pays for salaries.
And while protesters continue demonstrations, the NYPD overtime budget has ballooned by millions of dollars – but the NYPD has refused to answer how much has been spent for extra manpower for the massive protests.
One of the ways Johnson and City Council have identified for slashing NYPD costs in the fiscal year 2021 budget is through cutbacks in staff, not through layoffs but through attrition, cutting overtime, but have not explained how they would make up for overtime spent already that is expected to blast through their current budget.
Asked about the situation Wednesday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city “has respected the right of people to peacefully protest,” but such protest must be done safely and within “the right rules that make sense.”
“And so, NYPD will address the situation, they’re very familiar with how to handle something like this the right away, respect people’s rights but also makes sure public safety and other public needs are addressed,” de Blasio said. “They’ll work this through as the days go ahead.”
With reporting by Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech