WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Dozens of Washington residents testified on Monday in a sometimes emotional and profanity-laced public hearing about stripping the federal district’s police department of funding, after days of protests in the U.S. capital against racism and police brutality.
More than 80 people weighed in during the five-hour hearing about the District’s $8.5 billion operating budget. Most called for the city to move funds from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to programs aimed at improving mental health services, violence interruption, education and public housing.
“I am tired of burying people. I’m tired of consoling mothers,” said April Goggans, a Black Lives Matter DC activist.
The May 25 death of George Floyd, an African-American man, while in Minneapolis police custody, and police crackdowns on some of the nationwide protests that followed have prompted a re-examination of funding police. The scrutiny comes just as states and cities are restructuring planned spending because of revenue shortfalls from the coronavirus shutdowns.
More than 16,000 people submitted testimony to D.C. officials through video, emails or phone calls, compared with 24 who testified about Washington’s police budget last year, D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen said.
Four residents testified that the city should maintain or increase MPD funding.
“Do you think that unarmed police are able to deal with those individuals that are clearly undermining black lives?” asked one of the four, Kathy Henderson, a former city official.
Gregg Pemberton, the head of the D.C. police union, appeared at the hearing but did not address calls to cut the MPD’s funding.
The situation in Washington is being echoed at city councils across the United States.
Last Friday, the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution to disband its police department and replace it with a community-led model. Los Angeles and New York City have proposed police budget cuts, while Boston, Lansing, Michigan, and Seattle have said they are considering them.
Last week, the D.C. Council approved a raft of measures for the 3,800-officer police department, including banning the use of neck restraints.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser had called for boosting MPD’s funding by $17.5 million for fiscal 2021 in a proposed budget last month, and cutting funds to Fire and Emergency Medical Services and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
She told National Public Radio last week that she was not considering cuts to the proposed police budget of nearly $600 million, saying: “My budget doesn’t fund it a penny more than we need and certainly not a penny less.”
If D.C. passed a budget reducing police funding, it could increase friction between Bowser, a Democrat, and the White House. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has publicly opposed defunding and abolishing police departments.
But the District has the autonomy to spend tax dollars it raises locally, which make up virtually its entire budget, a council aide said.
(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney)