A three-hour public forum on June 29th challenged Eugene City Council’s proposed 2021 city budget. Citizens spoke out regarding the disproportionate amount of the city budget that goes to the police department. Though no initial changes have been made, council members are discussing future amendments.
The general fund for 2021 is a proposed $223 million. The current budget allocates $59 million to the police department. That is roughly 26% of the total budget. But city council members claim they don’t have enough time to make changes before the July 1st deadline. Citizens fighting for reform feel that budget redistribution could provide better services for the community as a whole.
Addressing the Public Forum: Where Does the Money Go?
Let’s look at what the people of this particular Eugene public forum are suggesting. “Defund the police” can be a misleading title. While there is no one consensus on exactly what demands are, there is clear ideology at work. Citizens are not necessarily arguing to get rid of police entirely. Rather, they are suggesting that the city’s budget could be better divided to improve communities.
Treat the analogy like this: communities have diseases. We’ll use poverty as an example. Most prosecuted crimes are committed in low-income areas. (There are plenty of crimes happening in affluent areas as well. They are just less likely to be reported.) The crime is a symptom of the disease but it is not the disease itself. We try to fix this by treating the symptom. But when we do that, we have failed to treat the disease itself. Additionally, we currently treat that symptom by “punishing” it instead of rehabilitating it.
“Defund the Police” refers to a change in how we address these diseases. Creating programs that would allow financially-struggling families resources is another way to treat the disease rather than the symptom. Free classes could teach them new skills. Seminars could help them get better-paying jobs. Free childcare could free up money for them to invest in their futures.
And handing off nonviolent offenses to social workers and other rehabilitation programs can take the stress off of cops. Police officers can better do their jobs when they aren’t so overloaded. What we are seeing is a new understanding: what we are doing now just isn’t working. People are still committing violent crimes. Nonviolent crimes are still being punished with excessive force. There are clear rifts in our communities. It’s time we start talking about how to heal them.