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Activist Coalition Tells LA City Council: Defund The Police, Spend More On Housing, Health And Schools

Screenshot from May 6, 2021 People's Budget LA Zoom meeting with L.A. city councilmembers
A screenshot of Thursday night's meeting.
(Libby Denkmann/LAist)
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It’s budget season in the city of L.A., when the city council holds hearings on Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year.

In a presentation to seven council members Thursday night, the Black Lives Matter-led coalition People’s Budget LA called for an end to investment in traditional law enforcement like the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department, and more funding for things like mental health services, education and infrastructure to build safer communities.

“Imagine restorative justice programs that get to the root of the problem and harm that was done and focus on healing and centering humanity, instead of investing the bulk of our tax dollars in systems like policing and prisons that only make the harm worse, said Kendrick Sampson, actor and founder of BLD PWR.

Sampson helped present the People’s Budget last June in council chambers, while protests over George Floyd’s murder and killings by Southern California law enforcement were spurring hundreds of thousands of people to the streets in protest. (This year, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a virtual forum.) The city council officially voted to cut $150 million from the LAPD’s budget a couple weeks later.

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Council President Nury Martinez was among those who participated in Thursday’s livestreamed Zoom meeting, and she expressed support for a lot of the coalition’s priorities — although no member of the council supports the group’s call to defund the police.

People’s Budget LA conducts a process it calls “participatory budgeting,” surveying L.A. residents and holding town halls. Over 4,200 people have responded to the 2021 People’s Budget survey so far, according to the coalition, and a total of about 44,000 attended its six town halls.

Those who responded to the survey “overwhelmingly support defunding the police and reinvesting in communities,” said Kimberly McNair, a postdoctoral fellow in African & African American Studies at Stanford University. “Our data demonstrates a consistent commitment to investment in universal needs, and a divestment from traditional forms of policing.”

“Imagine restorative justice programs that get to the root of the problem and harm that was done and focus on healing and centering humanity, instead of investing the bulk of our tax dollars in systems like policing and prisons that only make the harm worse.”
— Kendrick Sampson, actor and founder of BLD PWR.

Garcetti’s FY 2021-22 budget proposal, which has to be approved by the council before it goes into effect July 1, would increase LAPD spending by nearly $42 million over the current fiscal year.The mayor’s plan also would devote roughly $19 million to programs intended to replace police with unarmed responders to mental health crises and other non-violent 911 calls.

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The coalition says that’s nowhere near enough. It implored the council members to reject the mayor’s budget in favor of a plan that more closely mirrors the priorities that surfaced during the coalition’s community conversations, including housing security, public health, and restorative justice.

Council President Martinez said she agrees with the People’s Budget that the city has an obligation to provide more supportive housing and alleviate the homelessness crisis, calling it an “urgent mandate.”

But Martinez also said the city is limited in what it can do, pointing out that L.A. County runs the Department of Mental Health, for example, and education spending is governed by school districts and the state.

“I need for all of us to work together to ensure that these other government agency entities are listening to your presentation, and that we're demanding that these services get allocated to communities of color,” Martinez added.

Activists credited council members like Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mike Bonin and Martinez for pushing legislation that calls for alternatives to non-violent 911 calls and for exploring ways to get police out of traffic enforcement.

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In a letter submitted to the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday, Councilmember Nithya Raman called for more funding for unarmed alternatives to the police.

She noted that Garcetti’s budget proposes $3 million for a pilot project in Venice and Hollywood that would send a mental health clinician and service provider to respond to non-violent incidents in unhoused communities. The city should ramp up funding for that kind of program, Raman said, since it’s already been successfully tested in other cities.

Members of the People’s Budget coalition said the city council’s participation in its budget presentation stands in sharp contrast to silence from the mayor’s office. “We still have not heard any response from Mayor Garcetti — although we're very clear that he’s gotten our messages,” said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter-LA.

She noted that Garcetti talked about participatory budgeting during his State of the City address last month, a move the coalition sees as co-opting its work. “It wasn't credited to us, and was done in a really disingenuous way,” Abdullah said.

The final committee hearing on the Mayor’s spending plan is scheduled for May 14, when the chief legislative analyst will report on proposed changes to Garcetti’s proposal.