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The L.A. Mayor’s ‘Unacceptable’ Budget Would Deprive Those In Need And Accelerate The City’s Slide Toward A Police State

The City Council must not let Mayor Eric Garcetti’s unconscionable priorities dictate how Los Angeles responds to the COVID-19 crisis.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti during an inspection of recruits in July 2016. Getty Images

By Melina Abdullah, Jane Nguyen, Jacob Woocher, Pastor Eddie Anderson

This piece is a commentary, part of The Appeal’s collection of opinion and analysis.

If a budget is a statement of priorities, then Mayor Eric Garcetti’s are clear: continue LA’s descent into a police state where huge numbers of poor people, especially Black people, are deprived of services even in a city with unimaginable wealth. 

Garcetti’s proposed budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year makes cuts to nearly every department, reducing vital services that Angelenos rely on and imposing furloughs on nearly 16,000 city workers—but the Los Angeles Police Department is getting a raise.  

All told, Garcetti is proposing that LA spend a staggering $3.15 billion on policing, eating up nearly 54 percent of the city’s unrestricted revenues, which is where most of the money for general services comes from.  

Compare this, for example, to the meager $163 million proposed for “Housing and Community Investment,” which is roughly just one-twentieth of the money going to the police. Or consider the amount allocated for Proposition HHH, which was branded as a historic effort to build homes for unhoused residents, but totals just $1.2 billion to spend over 10 yearsversus LAPD’s $3.15 billion for just one year. In a city and county with the second highest number of people experiencing homelessness in the nation, this is not acceptable.

If we took just a fraction of money from the police, how many more people sleeping on the street could we house in vacant hotel rooms? How many hungry mothers and children could we feed? How many jobs could we provide that give families the income and services they need?

More money for the police means less money for human-centered programs, period. We are in the middle of an economic and health crisis, and now more than ever, we need a budget centered on humanity.

But hope is not lost. The City Council can reverse this, or at least slow down the process so the people have a chance to make their voices heard. Although they have until June 1 to send a budget back to Garcetti, the initial rumors coming out of City Hall suggested that the Council planned to vote on May 21. We urge the City Council to give more time for public input.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” The same could certainly be said about a city that pours money into the police rather than social programs that truly help its vulnerable residents. 

Funneling ever more money to the LAPD is an outrage, especially because violent crime in our city is already low. “These are better crime statistics than we’ve seen in decades,” Garcetti said in January. LAPD Chief Michel Moore agreed: “[Today is] one of the safest times in Los Angeles.”

But we also know that the police don’t make our communities safer, as evidenced by the over 600 people who have been killed by law enforcement or died in custody in Los Angeles County since 2012. The LAPD has been involved in scandalous behavior, including appearing to recruit potential officers on Breitbart, an alt-right, White-supremacist “news” outlet; adding the names of innocent Black and Latinx people to the gang database; continuing to stop and frisk Black people at five times their population share, searching Black motorists at a rate four times that of white people (even though Black people are less likely to carry contraband items or commit a crime); and using abhorrent violence against the disproportionately Black unhoused community. The city should not reward the LAPD with a boost in their budget for these behaviors. 

When deciding how to allocate resources, the question becomes who and what do we value most: Is it investing in our children and providing shelter, food, and medical care for our most vulnerable populations? Is it helping our city withstand a global pandemic? Or is it investing in a police state that won’t make our communities any safer and will actually harm those who need help the most? Los Angeles needs a budget that values and prioritizes services over police—a people’s budget.

We need housing. We need health care. We need healthy food. We need good jobs. We need educational enrichment. We need small business resources. We need mental health care. We need free public transit. 

We don’t need more police. 

The City Council must use its power to change the course of this city’s history. It must not let Garcetti’s unconscionable priorities dictate how the great city of LA responds to this historic crisis. 

City Council President Nury Martinez recently made a profound statement on Twitter: “[P]eople who live in poverty have a death rate nearly 4x higher than communities with little or no poverty. This is UNACCEPTABLE. Systemic racism is literally killing us. What kind of city are we going to be coming out of this pandemic?”

That is the perfect question to be asking: What kind of city are we?  

The time is now for Councilmember Martinez, Councilmember and Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee Paul Krekorian, and the others to exhibit real leadership and ensure we have a budget that is about care, not cops. 

Melina Abdullah is Professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA and co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles.

Jane Nguyen is the co-founder of Ktown for All and UCLA Activist-in-Residence.

Reverend Edward L. Anderson is an ordained minister with degrees from Morehouse College and Claremont School of Theology. He currently serves the historic McCarty Memorial Christian Church located in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles. Rev. Anderson is the co-chair of the new Poor People’s Campaign in California: A National Call for Moral Revival and is a Bethany and Preston Taylor Fellow. He also serves on the board of directors for Claremont School of Theology and Progressive Christians Uniting.  

Jacob Woocher is pursuing a joint degree in law and urban planning at UCLA. He is a member of the Los Angeles Tenants Union.