Reimagining Public Safety

Extend the Public Safety Task Force

At the upcoming City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 14, the council will consider whether to extend the Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force, whose mandate is set to expire on September 30. It is crucial that our community voice its support for the Task Force’s continuation.

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Exploding Fireworks

Richmond has a fireworks problem. For some of our residents, it feels like July 4th has become an entire season.

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Tom Butt Doesn’t Understand Public Safety

Mayor Butt’s obsession with Reimagine Public Safety Community Task Force member Tamisha Torres-Walker continues. Torres-Walker, who serves as a City Councilwoman in Antioch, recently made a call for the hiring of four more police officers in the district she represents.

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Video: Reimagining Public Safety in Richmond, a Year in Review

It was just over a year ago when the previous Richmond City Council initiated the process of establishing a formal task force to Reimagine Public Safety in Richmond. Between the Task Force and the Council there have been hours and hours of discussion on this subject, including analyzing relevant data, developing programatic strategies and implementation plans, and developing a budget to support this vision of a safer Richmond. Please check out this video for an overview.

Police Layoffs Are Not Happening

In recent weeks, a sudden preoccupation with police layoffs entered the public conversation around the Reimagine Public Safety Community Task Force proposals. The origins of this fear have been difficult to track, as the Task Force provided numerous sample budgets for city staff to refer to when implementing the proposals—none of which included layoffs. Instead, the four pillars of the public safety program were to be funded through such budgetary procedures as eliminating frozen police positions, staff vacancies, and unnecessary contracts with private firms. Eliminating the twelve police department vacancies, for example, would save the city $3 million dollars annually while maintaining the same level of police services from last year.

The budgetary process has also indicated that Richmond is working with a sizable surplus this year (roughly $15.6 million dollars). These noticeable increases in the City’s revenue streams came thanks to voters who passed Measure H, known as the Real Estate Transfer Tax, in 2018. Because of this surplus, we can afford to fund the Reimagine proposals and not take all the funds from the police. The availability of these funds, coupled with the money that can be trimmed from the police budget, makes layoffs unnecessary. 

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Beyond Policing: Richmond’s Successful Public Safety Policy

One recurring worry about the Reimagine Public Safety Community Task Force  proposals has been the accusation that the Task Force is recommending untested public safety practices. Critics and concerned residents both, particularly those with memories of Richmond’s violent crime rate through 2010, have expressed understandable anxiety about the return of rampant gun violence and indiscriminate shootings. But these fears and anxieties are unwarranted. Richmond already has a proven program in place—the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS). What ONS needs is adequate funding to expand and continue their groundbreaking work. 

Richmond began the work of reimagining policing in 2007, when it established ONS. At the time, Richmond was ranked the ninth most dangerous city in the country, and previous efforts to curb shootings and other violent crime yielded little discernible success. The ONS was not shy about taking a new approach: it would not be another arm of Richmond’s police force. Instead, the new program harnessed deep knowledge of our community, data aggregation, and cutting-edge theories about violence to craft its strategy. 

 

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Reimagining Public Safety Task Force proposals

 

City Council meeting agenda on June 1 contained item J3, brought forward by City Manager Laura Snideman’s office. While city staff was tasked by Council on May 10, 2021 to integrate the approved Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force proposals into this year’s City budget, the staff report for tonight’s item indicates that the City Manager has chosen to go beyond the purview of her authority. At stake are not only the vital issues of police accountability and racial justice, but also the democratically-bestowed mandate of our progressive City Council members. RPA members are thus strongly encouraged to make public comments during meetings on the matter.

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RPA statment on policing justice

The Richmond Progressive Alliance stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.

We support the demand to defund and divest from our police department. This divestment will allow reallocation of funds to invest in the Black community, who deserve to be a priority in Richmond. Reallocating funds would also allow Richmond to promote authentic public safety by preventing problems at their source, while the police would be structured for appropriate tasks.

Efforts to “reform” the police are not enough, especially against the backdrop of five decades of increasing mass incarceration and police militarization. Today, there is less confidence in the police in communities of color and among poor people than ever. 

Even in Richmond, where there have been marked improvements in policing during the last 15 years, there are still many unaddressed problems. Too many people in Richmond fear the police rather than regard them as protectors. According to a recent poll, half the city’s population lacks confidence in the police.  

The police handling of the Rashanda Franklin case, the murder of Pedie Perez or the abuse of Celeste Guap show that we do not have adequate control or review of police actions. There is also a culture of anti-Blackness which still exists within the police department. And, while we know that there may be police officers committed to Richmond who try to act fairly, they are part of a criminal justice system which is demonstrably racist, criminalizing Blacks while protecting whites; a system that incarcerates rather than rehabilitates, punishes rather than teaches, increases fear instead of protecting, and metes out violence instead of restorative justice. 

Far too much of the city’s resources go to the police department, which cannot effectively address situations which are largely the result of a rapacious economic system and institutionalized racism. That 41% of the city general fund goes to the police and only about 7 % to community services like recreation, library, and health reflects the wrong priorities and a misguided approach to promoting public safety. Genuine public safety means preventing crises before they start, and ensuring adequate housing, education, employment, and health for all, especially Black communities.

For years the RPA has promoted shifting resources from the police budget to other city functions. We support the demand that we start now by taking 20% of the police budget and using it for better ways to respond to 911 calls, traffic control, blight, noise complaints, drug overdoses, mental health episodes, protests, public events, homelessness, etc. These functions can be more effectively handled by other unarmed, trained responders, leaving the police department to focus on violent crimes. 

We need to work quickly in five areas:

  1. Begin now to make reparations and take other affirmative actions to rebuild the Black Community and allow Black people to be and feel safe in our society, particularly in relation to the police.
  2. Redefine public safety to be about providing adequate housing, recreation, education, and health. 
  3. The police are called to perform many functions that are best accomplished without a gun. For example mental health crises, homelessness, loitering and traffic control should not be police jobs.
  4. Adopt restrictions to reduce the risk of escalation, bodily harm and use of force, including no rubber bullets, no guns at protests and other activities that do not require them; no military equipment
  5. Better and stronger community control and review of police activity

The Richmond Progressive Alliance supports the leadership of many Black-led organizations and community groups, including those in the Richmond Our Power Coalition, The Coalition for Reimagining Public Safety, Richmond Revolution and more. We commit to working with these groups and others to advance a process of full community involvement to re-envision public safety and the role of policing in Richmond.   

On George Floyd

The founding of America and its freedom, or illusion of freedom, has been described as "revolutionary, contagious and incomplete."  Our society and even our politics permit the detrimental and dehumanizing treatment of certain people. Our freedom does not allow us as individual citizens to lead lives in harmony with our environment, our culture, or our potential if the freedoms aren't extended to all.

I have been grieving since, as a child, I watched Blacks in Selma and other southern towns, chased down by police dogs and fired upon with high-powered water hoses. The crimes of these Black folks was their pursuit of racial equality. These peaceful protests were met with hatred and violence. 

I grieved when I saw Dr. Martin Luther King lead more peaceful protests, even as he was targeted by the FBI and the police. I watched the challenge to his humanity and the hatred of white folks who propped up their own sense of superiority by rendering Dr. King and other Blacks as less than, until he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

With millions of others, I watched in horror in 1991, as Rodney King was savagely beaten by police in Los Angeles.

Each time as I watched this maddening history of another murder, another injustice, another case of police brutality carried out against a Black body, I and every other Black person -- and perhaps every humane and sane person -- was re-traumatized. Our bodies, our selves are constantly under attack. As a friend reminded me in a recent letter, Black people are not safe in this world.

I am repeatedly in this cycle of needing to commit thoughts to paper to unpack my feelings and yes, my emotions over the senseless repetition of murders of Black bodies. I am saddened, and I am heartbroken. I feel rage and I feel vulnerable. My humanity is exposed. The emotions are present all the time, hovering just beneath the surface.  Black people are criminalized in this country for the color of our skin.

I wrote a version of this letter when Tamir Rice was killed. I wrote a version when Christopher Whitfield, William Green, Travon Martin, Darius Tarver, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery were killed. When Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Kyam Livingston died at the hands of police, I wrote a version of this letter to my daughters. The deaths continue, and the list of the dead goes on and on.

On May 25, 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, a 17 year-old Black young woman who might have otherwise been at home like many of us, sheltering in place, stilled herself and documented the murder of a Black man, 46 year-old George Floyd.  Four police officers participated in the death of Mr. Floyd. This killing took 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Black people are not safe in this country. I lift up the young woman who documented this murder (respecting the fact that she is a minor) because of the trauma I know it caused her. Our Black children are forced to grow up fast. And now, these same children must constantly be armed with weapons of mass and harsh documentation; fully-charged cell phones to capture the dehumanization of their own people asphyxiated under the weight of white oppression, hatred, and racism. And I lift her up because without her documentation, the police report that stated George Floyd physically resisted officers might have been uncontested. This young Black woman stood her ground under the weight of the public execution, tantamount to a lynching, on the streets of Minneapolis. She stood her ground, as our children must, under the weight of an Administration that frankly appears to despise them.

A counterfeit bill allegedly used by George Floyd prompted the igniting call to the police. For a Black man or woman, calling the police can go horribly wrong. Black people are not treated justly. Over a $20 bill, George Floyd was murdered. The bill should have been taken out of circulation, not the man.

We saw Colin Kaepernick peacefully take a knee and lose his job, have his career end because of his peaceful protest. Do you understand his protest any better now?

There have been protests and riots across the country. A protest allows the expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid. "A riot is the language of the unheard." (Dr King)

Black lives are not valued. This lack of value has been projected and sanctioned loudly and clearly throughout the history of this country from the White House, the FBI, to the police with sponsored power to murder. And citizens, as well as other police, who stand by and justify the police activity resulting in the inhumane treatment of others are complicit in the injustice.

Where is the rage for human life lost and what are we willing to do to stop this inhumane treatment of a race of people? White people taking to the streets hidden behind masks with hammers in hand destroying property and painting signs on businesses that black lives matter will not solve the issues.

We have an Administration that calls white people who riot and destroy in order to preserve a legacy of slavery and inequality “good people.” For actions around justice for Blacks, by Black people, we are called “thugs” by the same administration.

How do we change this continuous cycle of injustice?

In the US, Black people make up almost 13% of the population. In Richmond, Blacks comprise around 20% of the population. Both nationally and locally there are significant employment and wage disparities, education gaps, housing instability and food insecurity that render Black people institutionally and generationally disadvantaged. Aggression against Black people and murders of these people by police are intentional and not separate from the other institutions that regard Black as less than.

Black bodies have to count in our overall struggle. Not as a placeholder or a chant, but in the policies and platforms we champion. How are Black students being educated and are we recognizing their needs in our advocacy? When 60% of Black folks in Richmond rent their living spaces -- their homes, and they and others in Richmond overwhelmingly voted for rent control, how does local government show that it values those same people while attempting to repeal the very protection that provides some semblance of housing stability? As we struggle to balance the citys budget, are we funding the licensing of police to kill Black people, or should the protection of Black people be prioritized and the police demilitarized and defunded?

How do we measure up? How are the organizations -- including local government -- you support engaged around the freedom of Black people and the protection of our lives?  How is this reflected in policies we support and people we elect?

In order for Black people to be free and treated with justice, our own organized efforts have to demonstrate that the fight is for their freedom. Black people must be free if any of our society is to be free.

-- BK Williams, Richmond Progressive Alliance Co-chair

Edited with Nicole Valentino

No on Montalbo - Great Showing at City Council, Childish Response from Mayor Butt

A big thanks to everyone who came to Richmond City Council tonight, those who spoke against Catherine Montalbo's appointment to the Richmond Citizen's/Community Police Review Commission, and those who signed the letter that we delivered to the City Council

Mayor Butt responded to the large group of people who gathered to speak against Montalbo's appointment by pulling the item from the agenda entirely -- so there was no vote on Montalbo tonight.

Councilmember Jael Myrick made the very reasonable motion/suggestion that the City Council be allowed to vote on the appointments of Christopher Whitmore and Armond Lee, the two non-controversial CPRC appointments made by Butt, so that the commission can function. Butt refused, and withdrew their nominations as well, and the City Attorney said there was nothing the rest of the Council could do to stop him. Because he may not be able to get Montalbo approved, it looks like Butt is trying to shut down the Citizen's Police Review Commission entirely. It was undemocratic and vindictive, right out of the Trump playbook, but it got our speakers very fired up.

Butt said he didn't want to hear from us tonight. But more than 20 of us signed up for open comment and used that time to say what we needed to say about the CPRC anyway. It was truly inspiring to see a diverse group of real Richmonders coming together to take care of our city's most vulnerable people.

Only two people spoke in favor of the appointment, one of them being Montalbo herself.

Check out the video here, comments on Montalbo start at 23:50.

After the meeting one of of our allies was asked if Butt was going to shut down the CPRC forever. He responded, "Well, we won't let him." Amen to that. Stay tuned for another update with next steps!

Anyone who wants to get these updates can sign the No on Montalbo Letter to be added to this list