It was the slaying of George Floyd in 2020 that turned “defund the police” into the rally cry of the summer last year, with protesters fiercely fighting for revisions to police budgets across the country, the very boldest even calling for indefinite abolition.
Just a few weeks later in Los Angeles, mayor Eric Garcetti would vow to slash $150 million from the annual police budget, appearing to hear and acknowledge the woes of the public—or so we thought.
While some activists viewed Garcetti’s efforts as underwhelming, many clung to the hope that this was just the first step in a long journey toward true, institutional transformation. Maybe change wasn’t exactly here yet, but at least it was on the way.
The recently approved budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, however, has proven to be an even greater disappointment, this time laying out a 3 percent increase in funds for the Los Angeles Police Department, pushing its total to $1.76 billion.
The increase, which would allow for the employment of 200+ new officers, was cited as a precautionary measure against the sharp uptick in crime Los Angeles has seen this year. The first four months of 2021 were marked by a 73 percent increase in gun violence, a 44 percent increase in gang-related homicides, and a 4.7 percent increase in violent crimes in general.
Though, given the sparse evidence and nearly unfounded correlation between a heightened police presence and greater public safety, it becomes hard to make sense of why Los Angeles would choose to pile an additional $41 million dollars on LAPD’s already full plate.
With no hard-hitting facts to back this approach, more police on the streets of Los Angeles has the potential to result in over-policing, which means more arrests and more deaths.
According to this LA Times report, about four people are killed by police in Los Angeles a month, with about 80% of those victims being Black or Latino.
Even more sombering: police violence has been found to be a leading cause of death in young men across the country, with those of color facing such an exceptionally high risk that the threat of police force may be classified as a public health issue.
And so, aside from exposing the flimsy promises of elected officials, the new budget sparks new questions on the priorities of our local leadership. Are there truly no other alternatives toward achieving public safety or have we just been lazy in seeking them out?
In a time where over 66,000 Angelino’s currently face housing insecurity, California jobless claims account for 17.5% of all claims across the country, and the achievement gap continues to grow for students of color in K-12 schools, it’d behoove the city Los Angeles to explore options that don’t involve putting more of it’s residents at risk.
Even more abstract ideas, such as investing in the “greening” of vacant lots, that is establishing community gardens and tree farms throughout the city, have been proven to boost mental health, reduce violent crime, and produce environmental benefits which are worth taking a look into.
If the revelations of last summer taught us anything, it’s that the general public is ready and eager to let go of institutional oppression, inequality, and slap-stick solutions to these issues.
All that’s left is for local governments to catch up.