On April 15, 2020, just as the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis and accompanying economic fallout on Black people was coming to light, a set of immediate and long-term demands was issued by a who’s who of Black Los Angeles leaders and organizations – more than 50 in total. The demands were forwarded to nearly every elected official, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who never issued as much as an acknowledgment, let alone scheduling the meeting that leaders requested of him. Five days later, he issued a City budget proposal that stood in direct opposition to the priorities outlined by Black leaders. Garcetti’s budget allocates 54% of the City’s general fund to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), at a time when crime has plummeted and Black communities, especially, are in dire need of essential services and resources.
If a budget is a statement of priorities, then Mayor Garcetti’s are clear: continue Los Angeles’ descent into a police state where huge numbers of 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 and resources, like housing, libraries, and parks, and imposing furloughs on nearly 16,000 City workers. LAPD, however, gets an even greater share of taxpayer dollars and officers are getting a raise. All told, the mayor is proposing to spend $3.15 billion on LAPD. Compare the meager $163 million proposed for “Housing and Community Investment,” which is roughly just one-twentieth of the money going to the police. Proposition HHH, which was branded as a historic effort to build homes for unhoused residents, totals just $1.2 billion over 10 years—versus 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. More money for the police means less money for the kind of human-centered programs prioritized by Black Los Angeles leaders.
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 the social programs that are sorely needed to recover from moments of crisis.
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,” Mayor Garcetti said in January. LAPD Chief Michel Moore agreed: “[Today is] one of the safest times in Los Angeles.” Under the pandemic, crime is falling even more rapidly. Nonetheless, LAPD has ramped up its race-based targeting, surveillance, criminalization, and abuse. One need only think about the May 16 incident in Jesse Owens Park, where six Black Angelenos were profiled and arrested – three for resisting arrest. Last week, #AJWeber’s family home was raided by 20 LAPD officers for the second time in just a few months. Police claimed they were looking for a gunman in the neighborhood and thought he might be hiding in the Weber home, maybe even holding them hostage. No gunman was found. None of the officers wore masked as they forced elderly and disabled residents out onto the sidewalk, ransacked the home and breathed in the face of AJ’s 81-year-old grandmother, who was confined to her hospice care bed.
We also know that the police don’t make our communities safer, as evidenced by the more than 600 people who have been killed by law enforcement or while in custody in Los Angeles County since 2012. The LAPD has been involved in scandalous behavior, including recruiting 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 our 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? Is it helping our city withstand a global pandemic? Or is it spending on a police state that won’t make our communities any safer and will actually bring harm? Los Angeles needs a budget that values and prioritizes services over police—a people’s budget.
In response to the mayor’s budget proposal, members of the Black Los Angeles Demands coalition have been at the center of building #PeoplesBudgetLA. The People’s Budget is an alternative process and proposal that asks community members to weigh in on their priorities through advocacy and participatory budgeting. City Council has been addressed through direct civic engagement, social media, and public pressure to reject the mayor’s proposal. Last week, the people convinced Council to scrap plans to fast-track the mayor’s budget. On Sunday, May 24, nearly 4000 Angelenos participated in a “People’s Budgeting Session,” 1500 completed an accompanying survey built around current Los Angeles spending areas, as well as priorities from Black LA Demands. Almost all of participants prioritized human services over police. Their responses are the basis of the People’s Budget Proposal, which will be forwarded to City Council and the mayor. There is still the opportunity to adopt the People’s Budget. The City Council can adopt it. Mayor Garcetti can adopt it; it’s simply a matter of political will. During this unprecedented moment we must be clear in our priorities and visionary in our approach. The People’s Budget does just that.
Melina Abdullah, Ph.D. is Professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State LA and co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles.
Reverend Edward L. Anderson serves the historic McCarty Memorial Christian Church located in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles.