At City Hall, Organizers Behind The 'People's Budget' Present Plan To Defund LAPD

Black Lives Matter-LA cofounder Melina Abdullah. (Screen grab from Channel 35)

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From the moment they entered Los Angeles City Hall on Monday, Black Lives Matter-LA volunteers and their allies were met with a living, breathing example of what they're fighting to change: a police officer with a thermometer.

"These are things we would typically ask healthcare professionals to do," BLM researcher David Turner said to council members, "but when we have this disproportionate rate of spending on law enforcement, they get tasked to do things they shouldn't be doing."

Black Lives Matter - LA researcher David Turner. (Screen grab from Channel 35)

It's a case activists from Black Lives Matter-LA have been eager to make to elected officials for years. And on Monday they got their chance to lay out the research behind what they call the People's Budget, first introduced last month.

After scores of marches against police violence and protests taking over the streets of L.A., Council President Nury Martinez agreed last week to host the lead organizers behind the alternative budget. The event came together thanks to behind-the-scenes work by former Council President Herb Wesson, said a source familiar with planning.

"We can always do better to ensure that everyone is included in this [budget making] process," said Councilman Paul Krekorian, who heads the Budget and Finance Committee.


OUR RACE IN LA SERIES


BLM-LA co-founder Melina Abdullah led a panel of community leaders who presented a plan to take General Fund money — nearly 54% of which is currently earmarked for the LAPD — and instead invest in social services, including housing, mental healthcare, and early child development. In place of armed officers, it funds community safety alternatives — including domestic violence intervention and conflict mediation.

This movement began to gain steam after L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced deep and painful cuts to the city budget that exempted the police and firefighters.

"We've been calling for the defunding of police for at least five years," Abdullah said. She noted that the widespread activism following the killing of George Floyd has created a new landscape.. "This is a moment where the world has cracked open, and you all have the opportunity to really be courageous and do something different in the city of Los Angeles."

Turner, the BLM researcher, said the People's Budget team surveyed roughly 24,000 Angelenos about city spending. 55% of respondents were people of color and the survey was distributed by dozens of community groups.

Pie chart of city spending priorities based on survey results for The People's Budget. (Screen grab Channel 35)

"Overwhelmingly the call was that we wanted to invest in universal needs and divest in traditional forms of policing," Turner said. Survey respondents said they would spend just 1.6% of city resources on police.

"To be frank, in terms of policing, we have a really low bar of imagining differently for public safety," said actor and activist Kendrick Sampson, who shared his experience getting shot seven times by Los Angeles police officers' foam bullets after an "amazing, powerful" protest and march starting from Pan Pacific Park in the Fairfax district on May 30.

"The demonstration was met with violence from LAPD and I can't explain why to this day," Sampson said.

"Black, indigenous and brown folk in this country need healing — deserve healing, but instead we are met by more trauma by these systems," he added.

Actor and activist Kendrick Sampson. (Screen grab from Channel 35)

Abdullah's voice was thick with emotion when she talked about Angelenos who have died at the hands of police in recent years, especially Jesse Romero, a 14-year-old boy who was shot and killed by an LAPD officer in Boyle Heights in 2016.

"In this moment, you will have an opportunity to be courageous to not think about the political calculations," Abdullah told councilmembers. "This should not be about your own political ambitions. This should be about what kind of world do you want to make? The world is speaking right now."

Council President Martinez paused before she opened her mic to respond.

"I know why I got into politics: to try to change it from inside," she said. "And so when you talk about being a mom — I'm here because I am a mom. And I'm here because I've been trying to reimagine Los Angeles in my neighborhood for 47 years."

City Council President Nury Martinez. (Screen grab Channel 35)

Budget chair Paul Krekorian echoed an argument he's made in council meetings previously: America's social safety net is failing communities, and city government alone can't pick up all of the slack.

"Whether it's police-community interactions, whether it's education, healthcare, housing issues and homelessness — all of that has been driven in the wrong direction for the last 40 years because of our country's failure to invest in mental health care," he said.

"We need as a country to do one heck of a lot more there."

After the People's Budget presentation, the council's Budget and Finance Committee met and passed a motion directing city analysts to identify 100-$150 million in cuts to the LAPD's budget. It would scale back planned increases in police funding for FY 2020-21, though not impose cuts as deep as many departments face under Garcetti's austere COVID-era budget.

And the measure's not a done deal yet. The full council is scheduled to consider it on Tuesday.

City Councilman Paul Koretz voiced concern. "I'm very skeptical about the advisability of chopping up the LAPD's budget without adequate analysis," he said, suggesting the funding could be redirected to officer training programs.