Carl Stubbs put it simply: "I wonder what my life would be like if the money used to arrest me and lock me up was instead used to support my education and help me get a job?"
Stubbs, who has been affected by and fighting mass incarceration "my whole life," posed the rhetorical question over the weekend to a crowd gathered for the unveiling of five community murals demanding a defunding of the NYPD.
First arrested at age 12, Stubbs said he spent the next 20 years "going in and out of jail, mostly committing crimes because I couldn't find a job."
"Today I am 69 years old and still living in poverty."
As a leader with VOCAL-NY, Stubbs has spent the past 21 years advocating for a defunding of the NYPD budget, something he says would result in less crime.
"I don't want the next generation to go through what I went through. There always seems to be money for police, but there never seems to be any money for housing or education or good paying jobs," he told the crowd.
"I want to live a beautiful neighborhood where everyone has what they need to survive -- defund the police, invest in communities."
VOCAL-NY was one of the many advocacy groups that came together to bring the five community-led murals to life, unveiled on Saturday in a celebration that included food, bomba drumming, music, dancing and artmaking at Bushwick's People's and Good Life Gardens.
Other organizations behind the works include Color of Change, Communities United for Police Reform, Arab American Association of NY, Justice Committee, Make the Road New York and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
The five eight-foot-by-twenty-foot murals were brought to life by artists working with Medicine Walls to highlight community demands to defund the NYPD and invest in solutions "that can help build healthy, safe communities that center community-led safety strategies," the groups said.
Artist and organizer with Medicine Walls Crystal Clarity said there was a "gap in the collective imagination that needs to be bridged with art" around demands to defund the police and how that would look.
"I think it's really important that we understand the power of us coming together creating together and helping folks to understand what we can actually build if we get past fear, if we get past, 'What they're calling for is lawlessness and chaos,' that's not it, we're calling for life supporting services, our youth to be supported with counselors and activities, not police in their schools," she said.
"We need the space to imagine a future that is blossoming and blooming, and healing and supporting us in the ways that we deserve."
Color of Change Campaign Director Malachi Robinson said the demands being made by the groups and community had not changed over the past year, or years preceding, "What we were demanding was for transformation, for real change and for the end of police terrorizing Black and Brown communities."
"This movement is demanding a reimaging of public safety, we are saying no more police and no more mass incarceration. We're saying we need to invest in our communities and the things that keep our communities really safe," Robinson said.
The groups, Robinson said, were putting the New York City Council on notice to defund the NYPD by $1 billion, and invest that in youth programs and other community support efforts.
Keith Fuller, of Make the Road New York, added that "the bloated" NYPD budget had come at the expense of communities across the city.
"Our communities all across NYC have been defunded for decades, our housing, our education, our health, our environmental infrastructure have been divested from, while the NYPD budget has ballooned to outrageous amounts," he said.
"We're here today because it's long overdue that statement is flipped."
Fuller said the murals were a reminder of "why we need to fight for a fair city budget that enables deep rooted investments in our communities."
"When you look at them I hope you are inspired the way I am inspired."