Following a year of hardship, Raleigh city manager Marchell Adams-David was optimistic. The city has “a renewed spirit of hope,” she wrote in a message last month, and with that new spirit of hope comes a $1.07 billion city budget that Raleigh’s city council adopted Monday afternoon in a 6-2 vote, with council members Stormie Forte and David Cox voting against adoption.
But many Raleigh residents didn’t share that spirit of hope during the budget’s public hearing last week. More than 20 speakers denounced a proposed $4,856,283 funding increase for the Raleigh Police Department, which came under fire from residents last year for using tear gas and other weapons against protesters, involvement in the deaths of multiple men of color since 2013, and, more recently, drug-framing Black residents in Raleigh.
“We do not need to reform the ways that the police kill us,” said Braxton Brewington, a resident who spoke at the June 1 hearing, adding that it was embarrassing to see an increase in the police budget following last year’s protests for racial equity. “We don’t need to make the police sign forms before the police murder us. We need to end their murder, their state-sanctioned violence.”
Refund Raleigh, a local collective that works to end police violence, and calls for the defunding and demilitarization of the police, tweeted that the adoption of the budget is “an act of warfare.”
Raleigh City Council is waging war against Black people.
This week, the City Council proposed giving RPD an additional $5 MILLION of your tax dollars so the police can terrorize us even more. This is an act of warfare.
— Refund Raleigh Freedom Committee (@RefundRaleigh) May 20, 2021
This was not the first time the council has heard calls for police reform and defunding from Black residents and activists. Last year, following violent confrontations between Raleigh police officers and protesters condemning racial violence after the death of George Floyd, the council held a special session to hear public comments around potentially reforming the Raleigh Police Department.
Since then, the police department has undergone some reform measures, including instituting a ban on chokeholds and strangleholds, implementation of the ACORNS (Addressing Crisis Through Outreach, Referrals, Networking and Service) unit, as well as a racial-equity training for council members that has been postponed.
Some policing policies, including five of the 8 Can’t Wait reform proposals, the city had already implemented prior to last year’s protests. The last fiscal year was the only year the Raleigh Police Department did not receive a funding increase since 2008.
During last week’s public hearing, city manager Adams-David said a large portion of the increased funding was part of a state-mandated requirement to compensate retiring law enforcement officers.
The other portion of the budget increase, meanwhile, provides resources for new, non-sworn personnel—including crisis and trauma counselors, family violence units, and community ambassadors—as well as an upcoming greenway patrol team after instances of violence on the city’s greenways.
“So much of the $5 million increase we have combed through the budget with a fine-toothed comb,” Adams-David said. “Dollar amounts we have no control over; they are mandated requirements from the state.”
But many attendees were dissatisfied with the city manager’s response. Reeves Peeler, a Raleigh resident and speaker at the public hearing, said a required police pension should not mean an increase in the police budget.
“We can buy less ammunition for weapons for RPD, we can buy less gasoline for their cars, we can buy less cars,” Peeler said. “We can also hire less officers.”
Bryan Collin, another speaker, criticized the newly implemented ACORNS unit, saying social workers should not be working side-by-side with police departments.
“The concern I have is when all you have is a hammer, everything’s a nail, and eventually these programs will turn into just another extension into the violent policing of the working class parts of Raleigh, the Black and Brown parts of Raleigh,” Collin said. “It’d be a better social good to take that $5 million, take it out in cash, and burn it in Nash Square than give it to the RPD.”
Many attending residents cited support for Refund Raleigh’s own budget proposal, which called for a 30 percent reduction in the Raleigh Police Department’s officer force. Refund Raleigh is also partnering with the Raleigh chapter of the public service workers union, UE Local 150, to demand a $20 minimum wage for city workers and permanent free bus fares once the COVID-19 pandemic is out of sight.
Grant Bunn, a speaker and supporter of Refund Raleigh’s proposals, criticized the City Council’s adoption of 8 Can’t Wait and policies suggested by the consulting firm 21CP to reform the police department. Both were inefficient ways to end police violence, he said.
“If this council wants to keep us safe, you can invest in actual community needs by giving city workers a living wage, truly solving our housing crisis, making all transportation permanently free, and increasing the economic safety net for all residents,” Bunn said.
Residents also criticized the city council last week for being averse to listening to public comments, with many of the speakers slamming the 60-second speaking time limit. Delaney Vandergrift, a youth engagement coordinator at the N.C. Black Leadership Organizing Collective, singled out city council members Corey Branch and Jonathan Melton for not publicly standing up for the Black neighborhoods they represent and reside in.
“We can no longer accept your private, whispered conviction,” Vandergrift said. “Do you care about Black people? Do you care about your neighbors? Find the courage to speak about it loudly and quick.”
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