This article was updated Sept. 29 at 2:10 p.m. PT.
“Hey NYPD. It’s us. NYC residents. The ones who pay your salary. We paid $300 million to settle your lawsuits. You paid nothing. We need to talk.”
A new Times Square billboard that directly faces a New York Police Department (NYPD) station is calling out police.
The billboard demands the department be held accountable for instances of brutality, and for $300 million dollars worth of lawsuits paid by taxpayers over the past five years. Because of its location, there is no doubt officers can see the video directly.
The billboard directly references $742 million taken from taxpayers to pay for lawsuits against police, the patrolling of public schools, and overtime for officers during recent Black Lives Matter protests.
The lawsuits alone cost a remarkable sum of money. In 2019, New York City lost more than $30 million for cases solely in the Bronx, not including any other boroughs.
Lawsuit payouts are not withdrawn from the police budget and resources, but rather are taken from the city’s broader fund. As a result, taxpayers are burdened with these costs—in addition to the regular expenses of NYPD—and police don’t face financial consequences.
“It’s no surprise that so many of them are repeatedly accused of excessive force or covering up a false arrest. The first time they do it, they’re not held accountable, so they do it again,” said Darius Charney, a Center for Constitutional Rights attorney.
The cost of police in New York schools is equally startling, reaching $327 million, according to the billboard. School safety was supposedly going to be reallocated from NYPD to a different department, in order to reach de Blasio’s promise of $1 billion less in police spending for the upcoming fiscal year. However, budget documents revealed that NYPD employees will remain stationed at public schools, and the police budget for school safety will increase from last year.
“Defunding the police means defunding police. It does not mean budget tricks or funny math,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement. “It does not mean moving police officers from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education budget so that the exact same police remain in schools. That is not a victory.”
The billboard was funded by The Justice Collaborative (TJC), which predominantly provides legal and networking aid in the fight for equality. TJC commissioned Cactus, a Brooklyn-based design studio, to produce the billboard.
“We decided to put the focus on the numbers and statistics that are inarguable,” Cactus co-founder Noah Waxman said. “The power and impact of the piece really lies in its simplicity.”
However, the website of the billboard project, titled “We Need to Talk,” provides more detailed research on how to better utilize government funding.
“There is no evidence that police actually improve school safety,” the site states. “Yet there is ample research documenting discriminatory and traumatic enforcement against Black children. We can get police out of schools and redirect those saved hundreds of millions annually into learning and opportunity.”
It also suggests prioritizing housing funds for the thousands of homeless children and families in New York City, citing the $635 million paid for officers’ overtime this year as a gross misuse of resources.
For police officers that take time to track down the billboard’s website, The Justice Collaborative has a clear message:
“You took an oath to serve and protect. Does this look like that to you? Are you okay with this? Your employer is squandering billions of dollars every year that could be spent helping your city grow healthier and succeed and using it instead on strategies that undermine your mission. Stop them from fighting against reason and hurting communities.”
The site also suggests that residents keep tabs on the allocation of city funding and hold politicians accountable for exploiting taxpayers. They cite the “devastating outcomes that come from sticking with the status quo,” and urge policymakers to better represent the interests of residents.
“There are better ways to prevent violence, support our youth and remedy homelessness,” the billboard reads. “Let’s invest in solutions that actually work. We need to talk.”
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