Testimony at New York City Council Budget Hearing
On Wednesday, May 24th, RJI’s Senior Coordinator of Training and Youth Programming, Anooj Bhandari, testified at a New York City Council budget hearing (via videoconference). The hearing began at 10:00AM and public testimony stretched late into the night. Anooj described the night as “stressful” and repeated testimony about police abuse as “heartbreaking.” Some of the young people said that they had to miss their final exams in order to testify. The turnout and fortitude of the members of the public who testified at the hearing, illustrates the powerful need to be heard, and the need for healing and repair across our city. Anooj was finally called to testify at nearly 10:30pm. What follows is an approximate transcript of his testimony:
I am advocating for 75 million dollars toward Restorative Justice Coordinator positions and an additional 75 million towards community based support staff, as well as a freeze on hiring new School Safety Agents. I used to work as an RJ Coordinator in NYC schools. During just a two year window, we were able to lower school suspension rates by over 60% while also creating opportunities for over 50 youth to take on leadership roles…and this is just in one school. Programs like this are happening all around the city.
The issue is not that we don’t have alternative ways of developing safety in schools. The issue is that the combination of mayoral control and police presence in schools leads to quick, escalating and ineffective responses to harm.
I’ve worked across Department of Education schools supporting the development of restorative justice programs and processes. During that time, it was my observation that a key factor determining whether programs thrived was if staff and youth were supported to invest energy in building community with each other. Supportive community is a central component of restorative justice, and restorative practices–when adequately resourced and implemented with fidelity–can help strengthen community. We demand that you stop investing in punitive policies that harm our schools and our communities (NYC already has the largest policing budget in the nation), and start investing in proven solutions grounded in the philosophy and practice of restorative justice.