As the state legislature passed a long-stagnant series of bills dealing with police reform, mothers grieving for children whose lives were taken as a result of police brutality called on New York City leaders to defund the New York Police Department. 

“We don’t need no more police officers in our neighborhood,” said Constance Malcolm, whose son Ramarley Graham was killed in their own home by police in 2012. “We need schools. We need education. We need healthcare. Our kids need to be able to walk in our neighborhoods without cops harassing them.”

Over 1,000 people gathered at Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn around 3 p.m. Tuesday to hear from public advocate Jumaane Williams, who spoke out against Mayor de Blasio and over-policing that he says is occurring throughout the city. 

“Blocking traffic is the least of our problems right now,” Williams said. “We should just let people express their anger and respond with real policy and structural change instead of kettling people in and hitting them with batons.”

The crowd also heard from Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams and City Council member Brad Lander, along with prominent members of the city’s religious community. Lander thanked the 42,000 people who had emailed and called his office recently to demand that the city defund the police department.

“What the NYPD does is respond to a passionate outcry of peaceful protest against abusive policing with more abusive policing, and then doesn’t tell the truth about it,” Lander said. “We know that the time for small incremental reforms is past. It is a time for bold leadership and transformative change.”

After hearing from the speakers, the crowd followed Williams and the other leaders across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall in Manhattan. A separate group of protesters had already gathered, ready to hear from several mothers who have lost children to police brutality in New York City. 

“This is a movement grounded in the pain of black women in their losses in losing their family members, in the disrespect they get from government officials, and we surround them with love,” said Anthonine Pierre, the deputy director of the Brooklyn Movement Center.

As the mothers took turns sharing the stories of their losses, New York lawmakers were busy debating legislation in Albany. Following the police killing of George Floyd and motivated by the protests that have spread across the city over nearly the past two weeks, the New York State legislature passed a series of police-reform bills that have been tabled for years. 

Those bills establish criminal penalties on officers who use a chokehold, ban on stop-and-frisk racial profiling, require all New York police officers to wear a body camera and have it turned on in most instances and repeal 50-a, a statute that has shielded police disciplinary records from the public for 44 years. On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo tweeted that he would sign the bill to repeal the controversial statute. 

“Most of us have had senators tell us, ‘Y’all are never gonna repeal 50-a,’” Pierre said. “They said we couldn’t do it, they said police unions were too strong. But they don’t know anything about the power of the people.”

Pierre said it was thanks to family members like the mothers on stage who had continued to fight for reform on behalf of their slain children. Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham, said she continues to fight for her children because of the trauma that her then-six-year-old son had to endure when he watched police shoot and kill his older brother.

“There’s no way a young kid at that age should ever experience anything like that,” Malcolm said. “I fight for them, because I always tell them you have to believe. If I had stopped, I would’ve proved them wrong about their mom. And I’m a fighter, I’m a warrior and I will never give up.”

Now, as momentum continues to build, the mothers and other activists are calling on city leaders to go one step further and divert funding away from the NYPD in hope that other families might be spared the same fate as them.

“So I’m saying to you — stand with the families, stand with us, and demand that they cut the NYPD budget by a billion dollars,” Malcolm said.

(Photos: Emmy Freedman)