By Nayaba Arinde
“Poverty is the main feeder of crime. We need to attack poverty with an equity economic solution for communities stricken with gun violence. That will make a massive difference,” Cure Violence, Crisis Management Systems advocate A.T. Mitchell told the Amsterdam News.
Currently, the New York City Council is holding budget hearings that will go on through March. Mayor Eric Adams will work on his executive budget through April. The City Council will review it, debate it, and go into negotiations before—it is hoped—presenting a decided city budget in June.
East New York City Councilmember Charles Barron told the Amsterdam News that allocating money to the correct resources would go a long way toward solving issues that ail the city. He is a member of committees including finance, public housing, land use, higher education, and hospitals.
“There’s enough in the budget to settle the union contracts; give violence interrupters $500 million so they can continue their success in curbing the violence in the streets; give city retirees their $600 million; and (provide)money for the NYCHA developments,” Barron said. “This mayor won’t do it, but it would go a long way to address poverty in this city, which in turn would address some of the crime (that) happens daily.”
Speaking with the New York Amsterdam News at the beginning of his tenure as CEO of New York City, Adams said a career is the anecdote to crime. Employed youth, he said, would not turn to unlawful options to have money. Part of his effort to address youth unemployment has been to increase funds for the 14- to 24-year-old Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) from $157 million to $236 million every year. At least 156,000 young New Yorkers have applied to be accepted in the program.
Barron said that extending SYEP is a good move, but is still not sufficient.
“The mayor’s administration should fund a $500 million initiative for the violence interrupters: the Crisis Management Systems (CMS) with A.T. Mitchell, Man Up Inc., and (others),” he said. “They are on the streets daily, keeping the city safe, doing the work, meeting with the community. Meanwhile, they need things like healthcare and they need better equipment, not the pittance that the mayor is giving them. More talk than money. And then we need to have a serious multi-billion-dollar initiative to put a dent in homelessness. And then finally, mental health is the major issue and it’s woefully underfunded in this city’s budget, and that’s a damn shame.”
Despite the mayor’s recently rolled-out plans to address both issues, from busting down encampments to having presumed mentally ill homeless people taken out of subways and to area hospitals, Barron remains unimpressed.
“An anti-poverty initiative would solve these issues. It’s not his priority,” said Barron.
He acknowledges that crime is fueled by poverty, and there has to be a greater focus on resolving the cause, not the symptoms.
While many New Yorkers may not feel any actual difference, gun, major, subway, and above-ground crime are on the decline by 19%, according to Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell and the mayor.
The overall index crime for February 2023 declined by 5.6% compared to February 2022, according to NYPD statistics. “This reflects the NYPD’s ongoing work to ensure the safety and security of all New Yorkers, and to combat crime and violence in every neighborhood,” they said. “February 2023 also saw the number of overall shooting incidents and murders in New York City both continue their week-over-week and month-over-month declines. Additionally, the number of hate crimes in New York City declined by 69% in February 2023 compared to the same period a year ago.”
According to Barron, “The budget is a document that should reflect the moral principles and the value system of an administration, and when you have $11 billion for the police and only a $120 million for the violence interrupters, that shows you where the priority is. That’s the problem. You have the rich getting richer…In 2021 and 2020, Wall Street profited (by) over $50 billion, and that brought an unexpected billions of dollars of tax revenue to the city. That money was not used for the most vulnerable, struggling Black and brown communities in New York City.
“The police got a good piece of the money for their agency. All other agencies had to have a 3% cut, and some of that money goes toward giving subsidies—which is welfare: free money for the developers to build housing in New York City and that housing is usually 75% market and the 25% of affordability, which is really not affordable for us.
“The gap between the poor and the rich is widening. It doesn’t matter whether you have a Black mayor or a white mayor when these principles exist, because we live under a colonial capitalist system, and these administrations don’t deal with the poverty that capitalism creates.”
A.T. Mitchell told the Amsterdam News that “we are in dire need of finances to expand upon our successes in the Cure Violence, Crisis Management Systems.” The decades-long anti-gun crime and community advocate is now the Adams administration’s gun violence czar, but added, “We are still underfunded and cannot fulfill our community mandate to increase public safety in our neighborhoods. We need more money to cover more hours in the week. We only cover one shift a day, eight hours, five days a week. We don’t have enough resources for the three shifts a day needed. There are about 50 city groups in the gun violence awareness movement, but only about 15 in the CMS that are funded.”
Mitchell echoed other perspectives on this issue. “Poverty is the main feeder of crime,” he said. “We need to attack poverty with an equity economic solution for communities stricken with gun violence. That will make a massive difference.”
Barron said he spoke this week with the NYC Office of Management and Budget and the mayor’s office, “which is projecting $2 billion less than what the Independent Budget Office and the financial department are suggesting so they can justify the cuts. They call them Programs to Eliminate the Gap (PEGS), they call them Programs to Eliminate Services (PESTS) because that’s what they’re doing.”
Asked about a surplus, Elizabeth Brown, communications director for the New York City Independent Budget Office, told the Amsterdam News, “In our recent Budget Snapshot, responding to the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget, IBO estimated that there would be roughly $2.8 billion in current-year surplus, above what the mayor has estimated, and $2.6 billion in surplus in fiscal year 2024. In fiscal years 2025 and out, we forecasted substantial but manageable gaps. However, since the publishing of that report, the city has come to a tentative agreement with (union local) DC37, which represents a large portion of the municipal workforce. Assuming that the other unions follow a similar pattern of wage increases outlined in this agreement, this would increase city spending, reduce our surplus projection for this year, and likely create a shortfall for next year, as well as increase future year gaps.”
Barron, a former State Assemblymember, said in response, “There’s 8.3 billion dollars in the reserve budget, and there’s unexpected $2 to $3 billion (in) unexpected revenue. I would use that money to go into neighborhoods like East New York, Brownsville, and neighborhoods in the Bronx, and I would immediately increase the workforce development programs in those communities, by hundreds of millions of dollars. I would immediately have a youth entrepreneurship program — millions for youths to start their own businesses.
“There is a $169 billion 10-year capital budget. He could take a mere $200 million out of that and build a center like the PJ center we have in East New York in every Black and brown low-income community, and hire the young people to run it like Man Up, Inc., does in East New York.
“He could also give millions of dollars for community land trusts. These are community groups that can get land that the city is giving to rich developers. Give it to the community and then give them subsidies to build affordable housing, so we can wipe out poverty, or at least put a dent in it through homeownership. He could do that today.
“He could stop privatizing NYCHA. I am putting in a bill to support (letting) the residents manage the NYCHA developments in which they live. Let them get all the Section 8 money and money from the financial institutions.”
Education is also a part of a plan to eradicate poverty, he concluded.
“The curriculum should be Afro-centric in Black communities especially. All our schools should have computers and science labs and what they call wraparound social services for the families.
“Let us build up our neighborhoods so that we can fight poverty and crime.”
The Amsterdam News reached out to Mayor Adams, but did not speak with him before press time.
This post was originally published on New York Amsterdam News.