In the middle of a global pandemic, Los Angeles needs robust social programs over increased policing.
Chances are, you or someone you know is out of work since Governor Gavin Newsom enacted the stay-at-home order in March in an effort to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections. During this already difficult time, when over half of Angelenos are unemployed, many are forced to choose between feeding themselves and their families or paying rent.
Many people don’t qualify for unemployment benefits, and our undocumented neighbors didn’t even receive a federal stimulus check. For those Angelenos who did, $1200 doesn’t go far when you live in one of the world’s most expensive cities — for many people, that amount barely covers a month of rent. And Los Angeles has no shortage of people struggling to pay rent — of LA’s 10 million residents, over 5.5 million are tenants.
In this unprecedented time of crisis, Angelenos might expect their leadership to prioritize struggling constituents. But when the mayor’s office released Los Angeles’s annual budget last week, it included steep cuts to programs that support vulnerable populations, who have been made even more vulnerable by the spread of COVID-19. The cops, however, are getting a raise.
And now it looks like City Council is going to pass Mayor Garcetti’s police state budget in the most cowardly way possible: by failing to even take a vote on it, allowing it to automatically go back to the Mayor in its current form after June 1st.
It shouldn’t be difficult for California — which has the fifth largest economy in the world — to provide aid to its residents. But when Mayor Garcetti released this year’s budget for Los Angeles, it became clear that the issue is not a lack of resources, but rather their allocation. The mayor’s budget is a critical reflection of his priorities. Unfortunately, Garcetti continues to place an emphasis on policing and criminalization over funding government aid programs.
Residents of Los Angeles need institutional support now more than ever. But Garcetti has slashed the budget for every public program except one — the LAPD. Garcetti declared a “fiscal state of emergency” after the city experienced a $231 million decrease in tax revenue due to the COVID crisis. He told city workers to expect pay cuts as steep as 10%. Hundreds of other employees were furloughed, and Garcetti announced the city will continue its hiring freeze.
The major exception to Garcetti’s fiscal state of emergency, it seems, is the Los Angeles Police Department. It would make sense that the police department be subjected to the same budget cuts as every other government agency. But in fact, Garcetti increased funding to the LAPD significantly. The most recent iteration of the city’s budget — which is scheduled for a vote at the end of May — is particularly egregious: it includes a marked increase of over $120 million to LAPD’s salaries alone. Of that, $40 million dollars will go toward overtime.
These financial decisions go hand in hand with policies that hamper the city’s response to COVID-19. In the middle of a national health crisis, it’s baffling that LA’s city government — grappling with a major corruption scandal — is trying to increase an already bloated police budget. For the past five years, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLMLA) and its allies have protested the city’s outsized funding of LAPD. Historically, funding for the department has hovered around a whopping 50% of the general fund budget. It appears this year will be no different.
In Garcetti’s proposed budget, LAPD would receive a total of $3.15 billion, increasing the department’s funds from 2019 by nearly $150 million. At the same time, it reduces public necessities such as street services, infrastructure spending, and urban forestry — an important part of LA’s Green New Deal. The budget also proposes funding slashes for every city department, seemingly to funnel more money to law enforcement’s pockets. These cuts will limit the capacities of important government services and leave even more LA residents struggling to find work and pay their bills.
And if the fact that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic isn’t a strong enough argument for allocating funds toward people over police, crime is down in Los Angeles. So why would the police budget need to go up?
The LAPD is not an agency dedicated to stopping the spread of COVID-19 or alleviating the financial strain it has caused for so many Angelenos. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. Officers have refused to wear masks on duty, brutalized citizens of Boyle Heights, displaced unhoused people with encampment sweeps despite CDC guidelines, and aided landlords with illegal evictions. There is no reason to increase the already outsized police budget, especially as officers continue to exacerbate this ongoing crisis.
Can a city council with a majority of landlords on roster be trusted to comprehend what their struggling constituents need? Can council members like John Lee — who lives in a gated neighborhood in far northwest LA — or Mitch O’Farrell — who has barred our unhoused neighbors from basic necessities like public bathrooms — comprehend the challenges the average Angeleno family faces during COVID-19?
We have no real representation of working class interests in our city’s government. Angelenos need public services, rent cancellation, and social housing, not increased policing and imprisonment. The services required most by residents of Los Angeles go hand in hand with stopping the spread of COVID-19.
If we made our budget work for the people, we could expand public transportation without expanding gentrification. Instead of increasing police funding, we could set up a city tenant counsel to represent those facing eviction from their landlords, who recruit predatory attorneys like Dennis Block. Rather than paying more to cops, who use the presence of needles to encourage hatred against unhoused people, the city could fund a syringe collection program, safe HIV testing, or a robust network of community mental health treatment centers. Imagine how many meals Los Angeles could provide to those experiencing food or housing insecurity with just a small chunk of that $3.15 billion LAPD budget.
Going forward, it’s important to consider what role the police play in ending the spread of COVID-19. What place do they have in mitigating a pandemic? And how do they reflect the city’s priorities when they make arrests at rent cancelation protests but do little to quell “Reopen America” protests?
The problem is clear: we need a budget that reflects the needs of the people, and thus a budget that focuses on mitigating the housing and financial crises caused by COVID-19. We need a #PeoplesBudgetLA. We need #CareNotCops, and we want #CareNotCages.