On Thursday, Champaign-Urbana’s city council met via Zoom to discuss the controversial issue of ‘defunding the police,’ a phrase first coined during the surge of Black Lives Matter protests across the country following the death of black 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
While Floyd’s viral death sparked another outpour of these protests, the BLM movement was initialized in 2013, following the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his murderer. Following these protests, several cities’ departments, such as Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia and Seattle, have all allocated large portions of their police budget towards different causes. While Portland utilized $5 million of the $15 million cut from police funding to put towards a new program that sends unarmed first responders to answer homelessness calls, Philadelphia has cancelled their plans to increase their department’s budget by $19 million, and instead allocated $14 million of the budget towards affordable housing.
Candidate for the City of Champaign Township Supervisor, Rita Conerly, defines ‘defunding the police’ as “Reallocating [and] redirecting funds away from the police departments to other government agencies.” She also emphasizes the falsities of the well-known misconception, that the movement works towards getting rid of police altogether, and states, “defund does not mean abolish the police.” Referring to the widespread incidents that have occured due to the mental health of some victims and the lack of preparation of Urbana’s police, Conerly also emphasizes that “police are not the solution to trauma and mental health.” Candidates such as Candidate for Urbana Ward One, Jake Fava, and Candidate for re-election of Champaign City Council District One, Clarissa Nickerson Fourman, brought up points that the city’s police cannot be expected to handle all the jobs that law enforcement is expected to. Fava states that more money should be allocated towards mental health support and adequate housing: “the more we can start to address those things, the lesser we put on our police to do everything.” He suggests that police should have different positions in order to put less on law enforcement and place more individuals in places they are better equipped to handle.
Fava began the council’s conversation with iterating the criminal justice system’s inability to keep its citizens safe: “Police across the country have repeatedly shown an inability to enact justice that is equitable to all citizens. The justice system in particular, is arguably the clearest place where racial discimintaion is on full display.” Later referring to the Urbana City Council resolution on white supremacy, which holds the city accountable for their past of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and oppression, Fava stated that these types of resolutions “often fail to see the connection between white supremacy in our founding and how its persisted and been institutionalized in our systems.” He then emphasizes that while some cities have abolished the police altogether and use alternative methods for neighborhood safety, this issue will not present a “one size fits all” solution and Urbana must find the solution that works best for them. Candidate for Urbana Ward Two, Christopher Hanson, agreed, claiming that “if we take that money and put it somewhere else,” several unjust aspects of everyday life in Urbana will be improved.
Candidate for Urbana Ward Five, Meghan Mcdonald, emphasized the longstanding history of the criminal justice system in the United States, claiming that “this country was founded on genocide and violence and the history of the police force only goes back to about 400 years ago when they were slave patrols and fleets of white men who were appointed to collect slaves and enact violence against people.” Mcdonald’s main purpose in running was to dismantle institutional racism, beginning with police brutality and by defunding the police.
These candidates are currently running for election in their respective wards or districts. The election will take place on April 6, 2021, with addressing police brutality, institutional racism, and defunding the police being a significant topic in each of their platforms.