One of the most contested planks of the Black Lives Matter movement’s platform is the demand that government agencies divert funds from law enforcement and put those resources into programs that communities, particularly black and Latino, actually want, like affordable housing, reports CityLab. It’s controversial because anything that tends to pit black lives versus so-called blue lives in the political landscape invites outrage from the right like few other issues. The divestment debate has been short on practical details about what such an initiative would look like. A new report produced on behalf of a coalition of national and local racial justice groups, “Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety and Security in Our Communities,” fleshes out the idea.
The report focused on involving communities in their local government budgetary processes. It spends a few pages breaking down the various components of city and county budgets before laying out its case for how jurisdictions can better allocate resources. Jennifer Epps-Addison of the Center for Popular Democratcy says the report shows that investment in “black and brown communities … (is) going into criminalizing them.” Profiles of twelve cities and counties show the percentage of funds committed to police/prison-related costs compared to “expenditures on the resources and services that truly keep communities safe—health and mental health, education, youth development, workforce development, and public transportation.” In Atlanta, 13 percent of the operating budget ($251.7 million) is for the police and corrections departments while only 3 percent ($59.9 million) goes to the departments of community development and parks and recreation, which handle transit, affordable housing, and after-school programs. In Chicago, 17.6 percent of its budget, or $1.5 billion, goes to the police, as opposed to a collective 5.4 percent ($450 million) going to the departments of planning and development (which handles affordable housing), public health, family and support services, and transportation.