Durham gained local and national attention in recent weeks for the police department’s response to George Floyd protests. As Raleigh officers donned riot gear, Durham PD stayed hands-off at demonstrations.
That goodwill fell apart Monday night when the City Council unanimously voted to increase the police budget by 5 percent, adding over $1 million to the department’s current cash flow from the city. This came after thousands of emails from residents asked them not to.
“It’s not buying tanks,” councilmember Mark-Anthony Middleton said during the virtual council meeting. “It’s not buying tear gas. It’s not hiring more officers to be on the street. But it is going up, and everybody tonight is going to vote for it. And the reason why we’re going to vote for it is it’s hard to govern based upon bumper stickers and slogans.”
The “bumper sticker” Middleton refers to is “Defund the Police,” a chant at Black Lives Matter protests and a larger movement to reduce police budgets and abolish departments altogether.
The $70 million budget prioritizes addressing gang activity with an additional “Gang Unit,” and will “continue to explore innovative recruiting techniques,” despite Middleton’s claim that no more officers will be hired. Technically, this is correct—the funds are being used to backfill positions, as opposed to creating new ones. The vacant positions were approved in February 2020.
Residents have been quick to react to the police budget increase on social media. The Durham chapter of Democratic Socialists of America called out council member Mark Middleton for his bumper sticker comments. A group of protestors camped out at the Durham Police Department after the budget passed; the occupation is ongoing.
Here’s a good place to start.
Send city council your “bumper stickers”. pic.twitter.com/JV3dqdpCNt
— 🌹🐂Bull City DSA🐂🌹 (@DSADurham) June 16, 2020
Along with the increase in police funding, the budget has a $4 million decrease for street paving, cuts retiree health insurance funds by 20% and does not include pay raises for city employees. Also, expect your city water and sewer rates to increase July 1.
This is a developing story.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.