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Mutual Aid — Not Police — Helped New Yorkers in the Wake of Hurricane Ida

Government on every level has failed us by investing in police instead of environmentally conscious community safety.

Volunteers help victims of flooding from Hurricane Ida in the Flushing neighborhood in Queens, New York.

When the remnants of Hurricane Ida arrived in the Bronx, I messaged all my group chats. Was everyone safe? Exhausted from everything that is already happening to our BIPOC communities, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop worrying. I panicked as friends sent videos of their flooding basement. One person’s Instagram showed people in a flooded bus lifting their feet. The videos of strangers’ apartments and water raging into train stops still haunts me. I finally broke when I got a text in a community organizing chat that someone in a wheelchair was stuck in their flooded apartment and needed to get out. We didn’t know their immediate needs, or if they were safe. They got themselves out, alone, and unfortunately had to stay in an inaccessible hotel for the night. However, what we knew from the beginning was that they were calling on the community, not 911, because they did not feel safe.

This is a part of environmental injustice that many still don’t understand. We are taught in this racist, queerphobic, transphobic, ableist society to rely on racist, queerphobic, transphobic, ableist systems that exterminate us. Everyone says call 911, but why should we when, especially as people of color, we call 911 and could be killed? This person had to choose between risking their life in more ways than cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied white people could ever consider.

I tried not to cry, thinking about how this individual is just one of many who were and remain in worse situations, especially for unhoused community members, who for the sake of survival cannot put their lives, especially lives of color, in the hands of police. It is this distrust in a time crisis is exactly why we must reallocate funds from violent structures like police and into safer ones like housing, food security and the environment. Scientists predicted more extreme weather, and Ida was proof of it.

Funding the police, whom I never see wearing masks on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) during this pandemic despite all the signs on transit, was clearly a mistake. When the chance presented itself in 2019, the MTA increased police presence and it cost our community over $260 million. That money could have kept people safe through environmentally conscious steps such as improving ventilation on train cars, pollution reduction measures or improving water pumping systems. After Ida passed over, so many trains were down that it seemed almost impossible to get to work. As a dancer who has to train almost daily, I had to forego class, which reduces my chance at finding work.

Last year, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a budget cut of $1 billion from the police. This came alongside an increase in police funding in New York public schools. That money could have improved drainage systems, brought more renewable energy resources or could have been invested in housing to keep people safe, especially during COVID. Instead, we are counting deaths that this city could have prevented. We grieve for the people and families drowned in basement apartments, who could still be alive today in environmentally conscious and equitable housing.

Throughout the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, community organizers immediately took to the streets to provide care and mutual aid. We are already donating clothes, food and cleaning debris. We are keeping us safe. We already have strategies for community safety and de-escalation that do not involve the police — not just during this crisis, but in our direct actions as well. Immediately, folks on the ground organized clothing drives, helped individuals gain flood assistance from the government, and more. We have yet to see police assist in post-Ida destruction, trauma or loss of life. Our tax dollars should be providing this relief, not our personal finances when we are already slammed by the pandemic and barely have the funds to remain housed.

Whoever becomes the next mayor of this city will inherit a legacy of climate catastrophe, government failures and so much suffering for no reason other than that money was poorly invested in unsustainable sectors. I hope they make the right decisions. I have nothing but doubts.

I think of the Senate that only last month voted almost unanimously to expand police nationwide by 100,000 and to deny federal funding to any municipality that defunded police. I invite all of them to move into a basement apartment in Queens without their paychecks. The people need that money for greener and more equitable solutions. Policing is not one of them.

The United States government on every level has failed our communities by investing tax dollars into police instead of holistic community safety that is environmentally conscious. Now, we the people are paying the price for it. Capitalism, in so many ways, is destroying capitalist structures by not investing in our safety.

As a nation, we stand at a crossroads. It is clearer than ever that the colonial state is collapsing. So, do we remain faithful to an ailing government that claws at systems of capital and control, or band together and care for our communities, in providing sustainable and safe housing, renewable energy, food security, so that we can salvage what is left of a further dimming future?