Defund The Police. Our Lives Depend On It.
Safe and healthy communities start with less police and more investment in community services that work.
This piece is a commentary, part of The Appeal’s collection of opinion and analysis.
Philadelphia is in its fifth week of unrest in response to the violent failure of policing and racism in our city. With the imminent budget vote, City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney have the opportunity to make the kind of changes that would finally allow for peaceful streets. Given how viciously the Philadelphia Police Department is inciting violence, I hope for the sake of all Philadelphians that they do.
Tuesday, I was among the group that occupied the lobby of the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia. We were there to deliver a letter to city Managing Director Brian Abernathy urging him and Mayor Kenney to pass a budget that actually serves all Philadelphians. Instead of being able to deliver our letter, 26 of us were arrested by the Counter Terrorism Unit without warning, including Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Samantha Melamed. We were left in hot vans for two hours with barely functioning air conditioning in 90 degree weather. I was just trying to focus on my breathing, fighting off a panic attack. When I was processed, the police asked very invasive questions and refused to let me use a bathroom. The entire time I was constantly analyzing my body’s movements and how I communicated with the officers, worried that the slightest misstep would put me in danger.
The proposed Philadelphia fiscal year 2021 budget illustrates that our leadership does not understand what our communities need to be healthy and safe. At a time when this city is struggling to meet the needs of our most vulnerable communities during a global pandemic and facing a $749 million shortfall, handing over $720 million to the police department is wildly inappropriate. At a time when thousands are pleading with the city to cut police funding and reinvest in communities, simply transferring $14 million of police programming to Abernathy’s office is insulting. The city’s budget reflects what our city officials value and who they feel accountable to. When there are deep cuts to affordable housing, jobs, and city services, with no cuts to the police department and no taxes on the wealthy, those priorities are clear.
Police have never made us safe. Police not only endanger our communities with physical violence, their oversized budgets commit economic violence and starve communities of the resources needed to fix problems police can’t solve—domestic violence and sexual abuse, mental health crisis response, drug abuse, gun violence, poverty, houselessness, and so much more.
Safe and healthy communities start with less police and more investment in community services that work. Before the July 1 deadline, city leadership can take the first step by taking the $120 million from the police budget that we need to fully fund our recreation centers, libraries, art and cultural programing, community based anti-violence programs, the office of homeless services, the public health department, the office of workforce development and transitional jobs, public defenders, and other community-led services that are proven to prevent violence rather than perpetuate it. Further, the city must commit to a reinvestment strategy that would put more police funds towards community safety measures every year, with the ultimate goal of dismantling the police department all together, like they have committed to do in Minneapolis.
PPD’s terrorizing response to protest over the past few weeks has shown us exactly why this is necessary. Piecemeal reforms have not worked. We have witnessed police remove people’s facemasks and mace them for walking down the street. Police have beat people with batons, pelted us with rubber bullets, dragged us on the ground, and stood by while white supremacists assaulted people with bats. Chemical weapons and military equipment have occupied our streets and terrorized our communities. And police have repeatedly arrested reporters doing their job in covering the protests.
Philadelphia is one of the few cities that has enacted seven out of eight Campaign Zero policy reforms recommended to address police violence. In fact, Mayor Kenney even tweeted his concern that Tuesday’s reporter arrest “violates the law and police policy.” And it begs the question: if police don’t follow the reforms they already have in place to stop brutality, why would more reforms make any difference? All of these incidents were captured in video recordings, photos, and even police dash cam footage. If police attack and kill people with cameras recording, how could giving them more cameras be anything but a waste of money?
Yet, city leadership, in an attempt to quell protests, have earmarked funds in the police budget for more body cameras and “implicit bias training.” Our communities desperately need them to do something different. Don’t waste our money on reforms that won’t work. Have the political courage to take funds away from police and put them where they’re needed. Our lives, our safety, and our ability to thrive depend on it.
A’Brianna Morgan is a founding member of Reclaim Philadelphia, amateur chef, rugby player and proud cat mom. She’s been a leader working primarily in Mass Liberation and Housing Justice campaigns, while supporting the POC Caucus. She was the Reclaim field organizer for West Philadelphia in the 2019 Municipal general election as well.