On Wednesday, September 14, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams held a virtual town hall meeting to discuss matters afflicting New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting focused on several of New York City’s public safety issues, such as reopening schools, a spike in gun violence and the path that the city should take in reimagining its public safety platform.
Williams acknowledged the weight of the problems that are currently afflicting New York City while also addressing those who are doubtful of the city’s capacity to overcome them.
“The people predicting that New York City cannot recover from these crises lack faith in our city, imagination towards our capacity, vision for our future, or a desire to be part of that work,” said Williams.
The public advocate was also critical of Mayor de Blasio for his inability to come up with a safe and sufficient school reopening plan over the course of the past five months, according to Williams. He stated the need for a reopening plan based upon compliance with scientific and medical advice, not one compliant with, what he referred to as, “arbitrary deadlines.”
With city schools slated to open on Sept. 21, a week later than initially planned, Williams suggested that reopening of schools be delayed further to give more time for city officials to construct a more comprehensive plan. Williams suggested that remote learning be used in tandem with phased reopening of schools, with reopenings being prioritized toward those schools which require in-person learning the most.
Williams is also pushing for police reform and a renewed perspective on what public safety should look like. Williams acknowledged that while police are a necessary aspect of public safety, they should not be seen as the only aspect of public safety.
“To all who would say that law enforcement has no role in combating this plague of gun violence, you are wrong,” said Williams. “To all those who say law enforcement is the only, and biggest solution, you are wrong.”
In the wake of a recent surge in gun violence, Williams advocated for increased funding to go toward both community outreach groups and New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides paid summer employment to city youths aged 14-21.
Williams also advocated for increased social services and student counseling within the city’s school system. Williams stressed the importance of meaningful gun control in order to curb the flow of illegal weapons into the hands of criminals. As Williams put it, “every illegal gun was legal at some point.”
Williams elaborated on the need for the repurposing and reduction of police officers in response to situations such as mental health crises, homelessness and even certain traffic violations. Overall, Williams made sure to express that police are only one part of the puzzle that is public safety and that, currently, they are expected to be too many parts at once.
Williams announced that he would be releasing a ten-point platform for his reimagining of what public safety means starting Sept. 15, and plans to elaborate further on each point with each passing day.