Don’t Give Up on the Police Department Budget, San Diego

by on June 16, 2020 · 1 comment

in San Diego

By Doug Porter / Words&Deeds / June 11, 2020

Calls to take an axe to the San Diego Police Department’s funding for the coming year failed to move the City Council, which voted 8-1 on Monday, June 8 to approve a budget that included a $27 million increase for the cops.

There are, understandably, a lot of activists who are angry and/or dismayed by that vote. The deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville at the hands of police have served to raise consciousness on the relationships between racism and law enforcement to a much higher plane.

I have no doubt that this is a turning point in history. And it’s about damn time.

Confederate President Trump is still banging out threatening tweets, and has decided to honor “race relations” in the United States by giving a speech written by the White House supremacist-in-chief. And candidate Trump has decided to resume his rallies in Oklahoma on the date celebrated as the end of legal slavery in a city where the largest independent black enclave of its era was destroyed by white rioters.

Instead of days of protests, we’re looking at weeks, even here in sunny San Diego. Local politicians and officials have scrambled to respond to unrelenting pressure for change. Choke holds are gone, a city citizens review board with teeth (provided the negotiations underway don’t sabotage it) is likely to be on the ballot come November, and today’s paper says the SDPD are working on a new de escalation policy.

Real change, however, is a long way from actually happening. Part of this can be attributed to the unwillingness of liberals to deviate from the rhetorical norms established by the GOP during their five out of six terms in control of the presidency coming out of the 1960s.

For those readers who are upset with/don’t understand the term Defund the Police, here’s a simplified explainer. (Via NBC)

After decades of fear mongering politics, the term Defund the Police causes way too many elected officials to flinch. What they (and we on the streets) need to recognize, as Joan Walsh says in the current issue of The Nation, is that the tension between liberalism and radicalism, between electeds and protesters can be productive.

  • I’ve come to realize part of the problem is that much of the liberal Democratic establishment came of age politically, as I did, in the shadow of the Reagan revolution, when Republicans came to dominate not only policy but language itself, especially around crime, welfare, and the role of government. After Republicans won the White House in five out of six elections, with a brief pause for Jimmy Carter, some Democrats worried that they’d never get it back. President Bill Clinton led us out of that wilderness, partly by making the many compromises with the dominant GOP worldview that progressives now loathe, or at least lament. But even Barack Obama, like me, graduated from college into cramped, fearful Reagan-era political activism. That partly accounted for his (justified) fear of a GOP backlash and (futile) determination to work with Republicans. Now, some of us cringe at every slogan that might potentially frighten off the elusive swing voter, from “Medicare for All” to “Abolish ICE” to, now, “Defund the police.”
  • But remember when “Abolish ICE” was going to doom Democrats in 2018? And they took the House?

The New Deal reforms and much of the Civil Rights legislation came about as a result of this sort of back and forth between those on the streets and those in office. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the best path forward isn’t crying over what’s already done.

Another part of accomplishing real change involves understanding the way things, for better or worse, are. You can’t win at chess if you’re playing checkers. The system IS rigged, but smart activists can still accomplish a lot by understanding the nature of the beast.

And, yes, outside pressure, in the various forms of activism needs to be relentless, even when you’re navigating the system from within.

What disturbs me about the blowback in the wake of the City Council’s vote is the personalized “screw you” attitude being taken by some activists towards progressive allies, namely Council members Georgette Gomez and Monica Montgomery.

Reducing the San Diego Police Department budget to nearly the same proportion of the city budget as last year wasn’t going to happen, regardless of how these two women voted.

While the Mayor’s veto of a progressive budget can be overridden by a supermajority of the City Council, is there anybody out there who thinks that Council member Barbara Bry would actually vote for reducing funding for the SDPD? And I’m of a mind to say Jen Campbell and Vivian Moreno wouldn’t be easily persuaded. There aren’t six votes there. Period.

A symbolic vote by Gomez and Montgomery, assuming they could find three other Democrats to join them (Ward’s no vote on the budget wasn’t about police funding) would have ended up costing them and their constituents more than the value of being right on this issue.

Why? Because the Mayor veto would have been a line-item veto. In order to restore the funding the council had theoretically taken away, he would have been obliged to veto other funding requests in order to balance the budget.

It may not be pretty or nice, but the way politics is currently played at city hall would have led to Kevin Faulconer taking those dollars from projects carefully negotiated over months and by the council persons who caused the ‘problem.’

Also, $27 million of that SDPD funding was for pay increases already negotiated. Walking back those deals would have involved years of litigation, which the city would have ultimately lost. So the cops would get their money, and the taxpayers would be out the court costs (losers pay the winners legal fees).

I wrote a longer article (link here) that included Will Rodriguez-Kennedy’s spiel on the mechanics involved in the council’s vote.  Some people have dismissed his reasoning by calling him a “party hack.” They certainly are entitled to their opinion, but the facts are another matter altogether.

It won’t make a lot of people happy to hear this, but next year –provided some wise choices get made at the ballot box in November– the question of what we’re paying police to do can be addressed at budget time.

For those of you unfamiliar with my past work, trust me when I say I’ll be working to make sure what the good choices for City Council to make at the ballot box in the general election. There are five seats up for grabs not occupied by incumbents.

Another issue that’s just starting to be understood by activists is the out sized role law enforcement unions play in local politics. Educating voters on this topic will be key to ballot box victories.

We can still win this, but it’s going to take some planning and negotiating, and the legal deadlines involved in passing budgets won’t be such a problem, as they were this year.

“Defunding the police” isn’t simply about taking money away from an agency. It does no good to require the police to stand back from interacting with homeless humans if we don’t provide a better way. The same is true for how calls involving mental illness are handled. Etc, Etc.

Georgette Gomez won’t be on the City Council next year, as she’s running for Congress.

Monica Montgomery will be on the City Council next year, and she knows what can and should be done to bring fundamental change to how law enforcement is practiced in this city. She voted the “wrong” way because she knew the cause would fail regardless, and the cost of that failure would result in programs beneficial to the community being cut.

Montgomery has already said she’s ready to take this on.

I know this won’t be good enough for some folks. Stay angry. Keep yelling. Because you will get more of what you want in the end. But remember this, it’s the issues, not the elected humans, that deserve to be the focus of your passion.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Avatar thequeenisalizard June 17, 2020 at 9:20 am

Wonder how much is still being spent on SDPD’s facial recognition software and cameras. Still in use, although California law banning it is supposed to go into effect in January 2020, but only covers body cams footage being uploaded until “review” takes place.
It is not a permanent ban but a seven-year moratorium, which before the signing was reduced to a three-year ban. Stay tuned folks.

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