May 20, 2021 Op-Ed By: Jaslin Kaur
It is no secret that we live in dangerous times. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t learn of another mass shooting, hate violence incident, or sexual assault.
The COVID pandemic still threatens us, as does the climate crisis, as do rampant housing, job, and healthcare insecurity. Even biking down the street or eating at an outdoor restaurant, we take our lives into our own hands.
With uncertainty so abundant, no one can blame us for yearning for public safety. We long to know relaxation, to feel comfortable in our own neighborhoods, protected in our own homes.
Year in and year out, the city government has responded with one approach at the exclusion of all the others: policing.
The NYPD’s budget has soared 27 percent since 2010, to an astronomical $11 billion. That’s more than we spend on the Departments of Health, Homeless Services, Housing Preservation and Development, and Youth and Community Development, combined.
Even as other city agencies have endured harsh hiring freezes, necessitating cuts to vital services that working New Yorkers rely on, the NYPD has received a steady flow of new officers and weapons.
And yet, no matter how many arrests police make, convictions prosecutors obtain, or prison terms judges hand out, the dangers we face persist. We never seem to get any safer.
It is time to get serious about public safety. It is time to admit that the old approach has failed to keep us safe. It is time to change course and set out to build a truly safe city by adopting proactive, evidence-based solutions to violence.
Our current system only kicks into gear after harm has already been done, and it only asks who is to blame and how we ought to punish them. To achieve true public safety, we have to ask a different set of questions: what are the root causes of violence, and how can we address them before anyone else is harmed?
There are already well-known nonviolent alternatives to police we can easily shift to, if City Hall decides to.
For school safety, we can invest heavily in hiring guidance counselors and therapists, so as to guarantee that every student has an assigned professional to provide ongoing and regular mental health and wellness checks. Students are 21 times more likely to take advantage of counseling in school than a local community-based center. We can also address school overcrowding and guarantee safe staffing ratios, so police aren’t the only avenue for overwhelmed teachers and administrators.
In hospitals, which are high-stress life-or-death environments, we can invest in culturally-competent medical social workers, to guide patients and their families through tense situations that, in the current system, all too often rapidly escalate to violence, endangering nurses and others. We can also expand former acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee’s idea for investing in robust Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs in hospitals.
For homeless outreach, we can invest in sending mental health professionals, community organizers, and other trained experts, to help connect people to housing and services, rather than police officers to evict encampments.
For traffic safety, infrastructure improvements are much more effective than police performing routine traffic stops, and if collision inspection is shifted to the Department of Transportation, their findings can better go toward making life-saving improvements.
There are non-violent public safety measures we can use to respond even to street violence. We can dramatically expand the Cure Violence program throughout NYC. We can fully fund Mobile Crisis Teams as first-responders to calls involving mental health crises.
For safety from gender violence and sexual assault, we can fund community-based organizations that provide rehabilitative support services, childcare support, and community building. We can develop restorative justice programs that provide safe spaces for survivors, and create pathways to accountability for those who have caused harm.
Not only would these changes make New York safer, they would make it more equitable. It is well known that Black New Yorkers are disproportionately targeted for surveillance and punishment by the current system. To create a city that is welcoming to all its inhabitants, rid of the racist double standards that have been so painfully exposed during the COVID pandemic, it is imperative to transform our public safety system.
My campaign’s data-driven approach to public safety is not only possible — it is viable. But it will require a serious budgetary shift. That means electing a city government with the bold vision and political courage to chart a new course and pass a People’s Budget.
Let’s get serious about public safety: we need to address the root causes of violence, not merely punish it after the fact.
Jaslin Kaur is a candidate for New York City Council in District 23 in Queens. The district covers Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Holliswood, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens and Queens Village.