Thousands of Baltimoreans have been emailing their City Council representatives in recent weeks, calling for cuts to the police department’s half-billion-dollar budget and, in some cases, for the department’s abolition.
Early this morning ahead of a Council hearing on the police budget, more than three dozen protesters with the defund message drove past Budget Committee Chair Eric Costello’s rowhouse, honking their horns and playing pop music (Wham’s “Wake me up before you go-go”) and saxophones.
“We really believe that the police department in this city, in every city for that matter, is overfunded and that the priority of our city’s budget should not be police, it should be communities and really vital services,” said one of the organizers, April Camlin.
(On social media, Costello denounced the protesters for their tactics, complaining that they “wouldn’t stop yelling while my two and three-year-old neighbors walked by.” He later deleted the tweets.)
At least a few City Council members have said they agree with the basic message of the protesters, including Council President Brandon M. Scott, recently empowered after his victory in the Democratic primary race for mayor.
The Council will vote on the BPD budget tonight at a virtual hearing beginning at 5:30 p.m. (The Council is only able to make cuts; it can’t reallocate money.)
In a video posted Thursday, Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, wearing a Ceasefire shirt, made a case for cuts.
“What we’re really talking about is a reallocation of resources,” he said. “When it comes to addressing violence in Baltimore City, I don’t believe that a budget that looks like the one right next to me will get it done.”
“Police are not mental health providers,” Burnett continued. “They’re not educators. They are not equipped to really deal with the root causes of violence.”
On Twitter, Councilman Ryan Dorsey posted a link to an op-ed he wrote in 2017 that called for defunding the BPD and discussed what he sees as easy targets for budget trimming, like the agency’s Mounted Unit.
Young: Increase the BPD Budget
The BPD review coming tonight before the Budget and Appropriations Committee is the latest in a week of hearings reviewing the $3 billion operating budget proposed by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
While many Council and community members are looking for cuts, the document drafted by the Young administration boosts police spending to $550 million next year, while making cuts to other city services.
Local governments are anticipating budget cuts, with little assistance from the federal government, as the pandemic shrinks revenues.
Much the same discussion is happening in state and local governments across the country that are anticipating cuts to their fiscal year 2021 budgets, with little assistance from the federal government, as the coronavirus pandemic shrinks revenues.
At the same time, protests against police brutality have erupted worldwide following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others by police.
As these events converge, calls are growing louder for deep cuts to the police, coupled with reinvestments in mental health, housing, addiction treatment and education.
Moreover, consensus is growing that unarmed social workers and community mediators are better suited to respond to certain emergencies than cops.
Police aren’t “keeping people safe”
Five years after Freddie Gray’s in-custody death in Baltimore, some believe the BPD is beyond reform.
A growing number of citizens appear to be calling not only for deep police budget cuts and shifting spending elsewhere, but a different approach to promoting community safety.
One voice calling for abolition of the police department is Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. “The current approach to public safety is ineffective at keeping people safe,” the Baltimore-based activist group says on its website.
City spending should reflect “an overarching public policy strategy that addresses the material conditions of our communities.”