In a perfect world, New York City would be police-free, Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray said Tuesday. But it’s an ideal, they said, that we’re nowhere near achieving.
Days after Minneapolis lawmakers pledged to dismantle the city’s troubled police department following the high-profile killing of George Floyd, McCray described such a society, in which no police officers patrolled the streets, as a “nirvana.”
“That would be like a nirvana, a utopia that we are nowhere close to getting to,” McCray said during a TIME100 Talks discussion.
When asked whether New York City could follow suit in disbanding its police department—the nation’s largest with about 36,000 officers—McCray laughed. “They’re a small city,” she said of Minneapolis, where a white police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25, reigniting national backlash over incidents of police brutality against black men and women.
“They can do things that would not be possible in a large city like New York,” McCray added.
De Blasio agreed that such a move, which is rare nationwide, wouldn’t be realistic in a city with about 8.6 million people. “Could the human race evolve to a point where no guardians, no structures are needed? I guess in theory,” he said, “but I don’t see that in the future we’re going to live the next few generations.”
While there are groups of people pushing to disband police departments, de Blasio said there are others living in violence-plagued communities in the city who would prefer enacting police reforms.
“You’re going to have police in New York City because it is needed for safety,” the mayor said, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t change policing.”
On Sunday, de Blasio announced a series of reforms, including plans to redirect some NYPD funds to youth and social services, although it’s unclear how much.
During their discussion with TIME on Tuesday, McCray and de Blasio said the solution isn’t necessarily to put fewer police officers on the streets but to improve their relationships within communities. “It’s good-policing. It’s not no-policing,” McCray said. “It’s having a different kind of culture than what we have now that is not so punitive and harsh and abusive.”
De Blasio said that’s a reachable objective, as protests in New York City have entered a second week since Floyd’s death. “I’ve seen the progress in these last six years,” he said. “I know we can get to that goal.”
Last week, de Blasio and McCray’s 25-year-old daughter, Chiara de Blasio, was arrested while protesting—a moment that caught her parents off guard.
“I didn’t know that she was out there,” McCray told TIME, adding that she only found out after her daughter was released from jail.
The first lady said she was “alarmed” as a mother who worries about her children’s safety. But she said she was “very proud” that Chiara was “doing what reflects her values.”
De Blasio said his daughter has forced him to acknowledge his “own white privilege” in the past and better understand why so many protesters are upset right now.
“It’s eye-opening,” he said, “to see the perspective not just from a protester who you respect but your own child.”
This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.