Following protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, activists have called on cities to defund the police and instead invest in community support and services. In Sacramento, some of the conversation around this community investment has centered around Measure U.
Dr. Flojaune Cofer of Public Health Advocates chairs the Measure U Community Advisory Committee. Cofer has been calling the city out after discovering that funding from the measure, which was promised to boost communities of color, is now being directed to the police.
She joined us to discuss economic justice, the debate over how Measure U funds are being used and the idea of defunding the police.
On Steinberg’s statement that he is fighting for the same things Cofer is
I think what he views as fighting for things is a very middle ground, moderate position. I think the times have changed, and unfortunately he hasn't changed with them. I'm really sad [about] his interview with [CapRadio] about how he has no intention of defunding or dismantling the police. I honestly think that's going to be his George Wallace “Segregation now, segregation forever” moment in several decades in that it won't age well.
He's standing in the way of reform. He is in a leadership position, and it's frustrating to watch him wringing his hands as if he's not sure who should take the helm. He's the mayor. He should have a visionary leadership. It's not particularly idealistic if the best you can come up with is $5 million over two years to think about how to better spend our public safety dollars, nor is it inspiring to think about the Inspector General being in existence, and only really responding to misconduct after it happened. Where is the proactive stance that prioritizes our communities? I'd love to see him actually provide some visionary leadership in this direction.
On how she thinks the city of Sacramento should be handling the budget challenges caused by COVID-19
I'm an epidemiologist. So I can make it pretty clear here that you can't shoot at or arrest COVID in order to make it go away. And so therefore, I would argue that our city's budget now more than ever needs to reflect the pressing needs in our community.
We have tons of people who are relying on food banks to get food. We have school closures and families that need additional support from our youth, parks and community enrichment budgets. We have people who are on the brink of housing insecurity. I would argue that if we had some major investments that our community should be making, it should be in that. Our budget looks almost the same percentage wise in terms of how we spend it as when Mayor Steinberg got in office, and he committed, he said on the record last night that he ran for office to change the status quo, but I haven't seen that change yet.
On what “defund the police” means locally in Sacramento
One thing to be clear about is that “defund the police department” means lots of different things to different people. To some people, that means reductions in the budget. And to some people, that means completely eliminating the budget.
In Sacramento, we recognize that, you know, these things often don't happen overnight. I think a good step towards this would be really rethinking some of the places where the police are ill-equipped to handle calls such as homelessness, as well as thinking about mental health and reinvesting and things like MH First, that exists as emergency mental health support instead of sending people with guns, who often exacerbate the situation.
On what Sacramento is already doing right, and what still hasn’t happened yet
I think the city has people who on paper care about it. I think the challenge, though, is that there are a lot of structures in the way that they're unwilling to come up against. [Tuesday] night, Mayor Steinberg said he's unwilling to revisit the police union contracts which have them slated to have raises in the middle of a pandemic, even though he has the authority through government code to do so.
These are the constraints, but you have a way around it. And when you're unwilling to engage that, I'm concerned. So I think that there's good intention. I think we're trying to take care of people. I think they're trying not to maybe lay off police because that adds to our unemployment crisis. I think all these things are probably ruminating around in people's minds. But ultimately, we really need to be looking at who is the least privileged in our city, and how do we make their lives better because if we do that, we will make everyone's lives better ...
My charge to the city leadership is to do more, to charge yourselves with thinking beyond just the status quo into what would actually transform Sacramento into a model city for the state and for the nation. And that's the part that I haven't seen happen yet in all the good work that has been done.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Dr. Flojaune Cofer's first name. It has been corrected.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.