In the midst of this summer’s historic uprising and Black Lives Matter calls to defund the police and reinvest into communities, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti managed to throw a bone to BLM activists and announce he would redirect a meager $150 million of Los Angeles Police Department to community services. To be clear, LAPD receives an operating budget of $1.8 billion (54% of the City’s unrestricted General Funds), and the amount the mayor offered to divest from policing and invest in community programs is not nearly enough to meet the needs of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who are over-policed and underserved by safety net programs. According to the participatory budgeting process led by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles that had nearly 25,000 Angelenos weigh in, only 1.64% of tax dollars should be allocated to law enforcement. Garcetti failed to meet the demands of his constituents and reinvest dollars into actual public safety, as stated in the People’s Budget report. Constituents would rather spend tax dollars on housing, education, healthcare, universal aid, and mental health services. If he actually listened to his constituents and was truly invested in responding to community demands for divestment, then the LAPD budget would be just over $1 million, which is equivalent to the City’s budget to respond to HIV/AIDS.
Where did the $150 million go? The answer is, it was hard to find out. Garcetti’s lack of transparency to the community about this money was telling, because in reality, he has nothing to show for it. He attempted to be a magician by using smoke and mirrors to make the promised $150 million disappear from LAPD and reappear elsewhere, without meaningfully moving money into communities. According to the Chief Administrative Office and Chief Legislative Office memo, the funds have yet to be distributed and certainly do not appear to be making it into the community. The breakdown of funds is as follows:
- $50 million remains in the City’s Unappropriated Balance fund, presuming $10 million for a rainy day while $40 million is set to backfill funding shortages and furlough prevention.
- $10 million is set aside for youth programs in disadvantaged communities through the Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD).
- The remaining dollars are slated to be distributed using a formula developed by EWDD by taking census track data into account and apportioning dollars based on a formulaic need, while allocating dollars through city council district offices.
Therefore, the distribution of funds remains up to the whims of the individual City Council members, many of whom have not demonstrated the will to divest from police. There appears to be no mechanism in place to stop the city from cycling these funds back into itself, never really making a difference in funding to necessary community services. Certainly, there is no transparent plan for ensuring the dollars are spent in accordance to the priority areas of the nearly 25,000 residents who expressed their opinion in the participatory budgeting process led by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
The community is left wondering, where is the community feedback process? Garcetti made a promise that failed to live up to the community demands, and on the pittance he offered to reinvest, one-third is “reinvested” back into the city’s coffers with no intention of making it out into community services, and the rest, well, we don’t know where it will go. What we do know is that the community has been treated paternalistically by the mayor with a covert operation to use sleight of hand tricks to make it appear that funds were moved from LAPD to community services. Concurrently, the LAPD Chief is advocating for an increase of $100 million in the next year’s budget, while all other departments are taking a 10% budget cut, along with furloughs of city employees.
Meanwhile, a recent study conducted by Loyola Marymount College that surveyed public opinions of Angelenos on matters of policing found that “[n]early two-thirds support proposals to redirect funds from the police budget to local programs, and one-third support proposals to completely dismantle the police department.” The evidence is clear that there is broad-based community agreement to redirect funds away from law enforcement. What’s more, in a public relations stunt, Garcetti had the audacity to use Black Lives Matter rhetoric at a press conference to “say the names” of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, victims of police brutality in other cities, when he felt it was politically expedient to pay lip service — while not actually committing himself to real change. He has never said the names of Charly Africa Keunang, a houseless man killed on Skid Row by LAPD after they unnecessarily escalated to violence, or Jesse Romero, a 14 year old boy killed in Boyle Heights by LAPD officer Eden Medina who just killed Omar Gonzalez 12 days before, or Brendon Glenn — a houseless man in Venice Beach whose killing was ruled out of policy. This, to name just a few of the hundreds of people killed by LAPD while he was in office. Garcetti continues to ignore residents’ calls for divestment in policing, likely because he relies on LAPD to do his bidding like using them to brutalize Black Lives Matter protesters and the unhoused.
Garcetti’s $150 million political theater, lack of transparency, lack of community engagement, and lack of any real commitment to change, is an insult to the work of all who are committed to ending state-sanctioned violence. On the one hand, he uses his pulpit to appear compassionate and empathetic, no doubt to quell protesters, because he knows it’s not a good look for his future political ambitions. On the other hand, he has failed to live up to even his own promises to redirect a fraction of police funds into meaningful community programs. Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and ally organizations are calling on the mayor of Los Angeles to not only make good on his own promise, but to be transparent and to listen to his constituents who have already determined where they want their taxpayer dollars go.
Dahlia Ferlito is a white, queer, anti-racist organizer and co-founder of White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL). WP4BL is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice. WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles. Visit www.awarela.org and follow us @wp4bl