Baltimorians call on city council to slash police budget cuts by $ 100 million on Taxpayer Night
Nearly 70 Baltimorians have called on city council to cut $ 100 million from the Baltimore Police Department’s budget and reinvest the money in education, health and jobs at taxpayers’ night Thursday, as Board members begin their budget process for fiscal year 2022.
Council members only have the power to cut Mayor Brandon Scott’s $ 4.3 billion budget. They can’t move money.
Council Chairman Nick Mosby spoke briefly before the start of the virtual event, highlighting the council’s inability to direct spending.
“The city budget, like the budgets of our own households, reflects our priorities. And that is why your council is here and works directly hand in hand with the administration, ”he said.
“Essentially, the Baltimore budget is a rubber stamp from the mayor’s office,” said Rob Ferrell, a lead organizer and co-founder at Organizing Black, a nonprofit organization. “The fact that the city of Baltimore has to scramble for two nights to say something and hope that changes is not a participatory process.”
Residents spoke directly to Scott during a the fiery taxpayers night he hosted last month, where notable progressive activists in the city decried its budget, which includes a $ 28 million increase for the police department, bringing its budget to $ 555 million.
Scott defended his budget as the one born amid financial distress from the pandemic and attributed the increase in the police budget to mandatory pension payments and insurance. He said he would organize a working group to make recommendations on the gradual reduction in the police budget in accordance with the pending federal consent decree. As chairman of the city council, Scott led the council’s efforts to cut the police service by $ 22.4 million last year.
Dozens of locals called for a set of concrete budget demands created by Organizing Black: primarily, reducing the police department’s budget.
“Taking this amount of money from BPD forces them to change structurally, to reduce the impact they have in our communities, in the role they play in our society,” Ferrell said. “It’s a realistic number. It is a fifth of their budget. “
Gwen DuBois, a longtime doctor and Baltimorian who lives in Mount Washington, said too many of her patients have lost their children to gun violence.
“I must speak up and urge you to reduce the amount of money we invest in law enforcement while ignoring the root causes of violent underfunding of programs that are more likely to improve the lives of our children,” he said. she declared. “Give them hope and the tools to lead meaningful lives. As the population of our city has fallen, the amount we are budgeting for the police has increased. “
Thomas James, the curator of visual arts at Creative Alliance, said the arts community has done more to intervene in the lives of the city’s youth than the police, although they receive much less funding.
“I lived in Bolton Hill and literally moved 15 minutes down Belair Edison Road, which is basically a police-occupied area,” he said. “There was no intervention to stop the crime or even just to help people feel safer. I am in favor of cutting funding from the Baltimore Police Department. “
While nearly all residents pleaded for a cut to the police’s budget, two residents, including Jacob Richardson, who did not indicate where he lives in Baltimore, testified in favor of strengthening it.
“Who in their right mind would want to cut the police budget with so many open murder cases?” These people deserve peace, ”he said. “These meetings are still dominated by activists, the DSA and the Open Society. They do not represent Baltimore. “
Carter Washington, who said he lived in the Eastern District of BPD, said the police “are trying to figure out the whole story and listen.”
“There were gunshots in my neighborhood and a few other incidents of violence. I’ve always been happy to see the police show up, ”Washington said. “I wish the police had walked around and stopped the problem before it started. I realize that won’t happen if they don’t get more funding. “
The board also heard Organizing Black’s vision to spend the $ 100 million they want to cut from BPD: invest $ 30 million in a public safety trust fund that will be governed by a participatory budgeting process and allocate $ 70 million for affordable housing, public education, universal health care, employment, universal basic income and community programs.
“The key factor here is to have a participatory budgeting process involved, so that people in communities can have a say in how this money is spent,” said Ferrell of Organizing Black. “So it’s kind of the best of both worlds. How do we take the money, put it in the hands of the community, and also allow the community to lead? What do the alternatives to policing look like? “
Randy Johnson, a math teacher at the college, said he teaches his city students about the budget. He asked them how the city could best spend its money; students suggested spending on racial inequity, human trafficking, neighborhood funding, garbage and pollution, health care, counseling, homeless funding, drug addiction, and vacant homes.
“Some were very handy: to throw away the garbage, put more garbage cans,” Johnson said. “But they didn’t understand the inequalities that were happening because we had to dig deeper. We feel that you all understand the inequalities that are happening. We feel like you’ve reached this position for a reason. You were elected to this position for a reason. “
“I don’t think the budget gives them hope,” he continued. “I think the budget tells them more of the same thing: that young women and young men are not being taken care of. … We ask you to make a change that will motivate children.
The organization’s demands to end the practice of sending police to respond to distress related to mental health, substance use, sex work, homelessness and other issues quality of life were also heard, as were demands to create an alternative to 911 that connects residents to resources for mental health, housing, treatment and / or harm reduction.
Baltimore will launch a 911 bypass pilot program next month; only calls involving suicidal ideation will be diverted to social workers. Mayor Scott said the program aims to start small before expanding.
Anna Duke, a District 12 resident with bipolar 1 disorder, shared the outcome of an interaction with police in 2017 after her family called 911 while she was experiencing a manic episode.
“Instead of receiving emergency mental health care, I was handcuffed and almost forced into a police car until my family could convince them to take me, still handcuffed, to an ambulance. », She remembers.
Duke said she was sure the only reason she survived the encounter was because she was white.
“Black bipolar men love Walter Wallace Jr. are murdered by the police when their mothers call for help during manic episodes, ”she said. “Cops don’t help during mental health crises.”
The council will hold a series of budget hearings next week, in which representatives of city agencies will speak about the planned funding for their services.
“Now is the time and opportunity for the board to really work with the agencies to better understand where we’re at or, more importantly, where we’re going,” Mosby board said in closing remarks.
By law, the council must adopt a budget by June 25. Fiscal year 2022 begins July 1.