“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
These were the words chanted by a group outside Long Beach City Hall this morning, where Black Lives Matter Long Beach and allied organizations gathered to present the 2021 People’s Budget Proposal.
In no uncertain terms, this year’s proposal calls for the Long Beach City Council to defund the police and reinvest that money in Black lives and communities of color.
“Whether it was homelessness, whether it was healthcare, oftentimes our budget has followed that policing is the answer to that,” LB Forward Associate Director James Suazo said. “We’re putting forth a vision to really say, how could that be different? How could we effectively use our money differently in this moment?”
LBPD absorbs almost half of city budget
In the last fiscal year, the Long Beach Police Department was allocated 48% of the city’s total general fund. LBPD was allocated more money than public works, library services, disaster preparation and parks, recreation and marine combined.
As expected, the LBPD is resistant to accept the idea that budget cuts are the solution to the problem.
In a statement to the Signal Tribune, Rich Chambers, president of the Long Beach Police Officers’ Association, wrote, “It is time for meaningful discussion and engagement on issues affecting policing and the community, but defunding the Long Beach Police Department is not the answer.”
Since 1991, Long Beach has allocated at least 45% of their total revenues to police. On average, the city has allocated 54% of their total revenues to police in the past three decades, according to data from the California State Controller’s Office.
Though this year’s People’s Budget doesn’t put a dollar value on any particular area, it does include sweeping recommendations to address education, housing, homelessness, health, employment and accountability.
“What we’re trying to address is years and generations of racist policy making,” Suazo said.
The demands come just a month before the council is set to receive a proposal for next year’s budget. The initial fiscal year budget proposal is usually released in late July.
Citizens nationwide call for reduction in police budgets
Requests to defund the police have echoed throughout the country by means of protest posters, chants and citizen-organized budget proposals.
“First there was shadow slavery, then penal colonies, followed by Jim Crow, and the War on Drugs made war on Black communities,” Dawn Modkins from BLM LB said. “Here in Long Beach, the pattern of targeting low income communities of color and criminalizing poverty creates tensions that boil over time and again into righteous uprisings.”
Some cities, like Minneapolis, have gone forward with full force to implement the change. After a police officer killed black resident George Floyd by asphyxiation, protests erupted all over the country demanding an end to police brutality.
In response to community demands, the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to receive proposals to disband it’s police and transition into a community-led public safety program.
The Los Angeles City Council is currently discussing a cut of $100 to $150 million from its police budgets, far less than the Los Angeles People’s Budget request of a 90% reduction.
City Council attempts to crowdsource solutions for city’s future
After a week of protests in Long Beach, the People’s Budget is a concrete list of demands from the community. Suazo describes the coalition as multicultural and multigenerational, with an attempt to “push for what equity would look like in the city budget.”
In an attempt to address the concerns of protesters and residents, Long Beach city councilmembers proposed a “Framework for Reconciliation” at last week’s council meeting.
Part of the framework includes focus group sessions that will take place at various times over the next few weeks.
“Systemic racism exists in all public institutions, and that includes Long Beach,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement. “We have an opportunity to listen to the community that is demanding change and take action on solutions to address racial injustices and equity for all.”
Some are hesitant to put faith in the city’s process of reconciling the problems of race in the community.
“We don’t need a reconciliation plan for you all to be responsive to what you’ve been hearing for the last six years alone, just right here in Long Beach,” Modkins said. “We know this is an attempt to try to draw out time. We know that co-optation and exploitation is real. We know that you will attempt to divide our communities. We know that you will attempt to pick people off, to try to douse this fire, but it won’t work.”
Dates for the “Framework for Reconciliation” discussion and listening sessions can be found here.