On a terrace outside the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors chambers Tuesday, several dozen people gathered to draw attention to homelessness, youth violence, housing insecurity and other issues they say could be alleviated with more funding from the county budget.
The People’s Budget Sacramento coalition has plans to propose an alternative budget for Sacramento County by this fall, with less emphasis on law enforcement and more focus on social services. The organization is also planning what they say will be a six-month overhaul of the city’s budget. Their efforts are modeled off a similar “people’s budget” project led by Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles.
At the Tuesday event, the coalition displayed a sign showing that 71% of general fund allocations from the 2019-2020 Sacramento County budget go toward law enforcement, incarceration and courts.
Through spoken word, chants and speeches, organizers called for a world where power shifts from law enforcement to community groups. They argued an alternative model would prevent police violence against Black individuals, reduce fear of police in targeted neighborhoods and connect people to the help they need.
“With over 70% of the budget going into communities’ hands, I believe that you’ll start to see something different,” said Rev. Kevin Kitrell Ross of Unity of Sacramento. “When these resources return to our hands, we will build housing for the people, we will provide health care and mental health care for the people, we will build better schools and not prisons for the people.”
Calls to “defund the police” became prevalent in Sacramento and other cities across the U.S. following the police killings of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. The message rang clear as thousands took to Sacramento’s downtown streets to protest police violence in May and June.
The county’s total 2019-2020 budget amounts to $4.6 billion, about $2.8 billion of which is in the general fund. Approximately $277 million of that goes to the Sacramento Sheriff’s department.
Sacramento County District 1 Supervisor Phil Serna said it’s typical for counties to assign most of their general fund revenue to public safety, which includes sworn individuals other than those in the Sheriff’s department, such as park rangers and probation officers.
He added that he and other supervisors want the public to “provide input, and criticize us, and encourage us.”
“It should go without saying that they’re not just welcome, they’re encouraged to be extremely participatory when it comes to appropriating millions, in our case billions, of taxpayer dollars for a wide breadth of service delivery and programs, the things they expect and deserve,” Serna said. “I get very concerned when it appears people feel disenfranchised from that process.”
Law enforcement agencies argue that defunding police does not help officers become more responsive to all communities or ensure citizen safety.
“For every disrupter calling for defunding the police, there are tens of thousands of hard-working women and men that rely on knowing that their police are keeping their families and businesses safe,” Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday morning. “Since a couple dozen folks can take the day off and attend a Board of Supervisors meeting to call for defunding police, you can readily assume that the rest of the 1.5 million folks in Sacramento County want to keep their policing intact.”
Jones is encouraging people who oppose the defunding effort to write to their district’s county supervisor about how important law enforcement is to them.
But social justice organizers at Tuesday’s event said everyday people can do a better job keeping their neighbors safe than officers can, and that investing in community programs will reduce the need for police in general.
Kim Williams works with a South Sacramento nonprofit called Sacramento Building Healthy Communities and with the Black Child Legacy Campaign, which receives county funding to prevent Black child deaths from birth complications, child abuse and homicide.
She attended the event to advocate for youth, who she says are at high risk of getting involved with violent crime right now because of COVID-19.
“There’s no more school for them, they’re not going to the stores, they’re not supposed to be out in the parks,” Williams said. “Home may not be the safest place for them to be … if we have an opportunity to be able to give resources to organizations that can help those young people, that’s what we should be doing.”
The idea of a People’s Budget for Sacramento was first announced during a Juneteenth event by incoming councilmember Katie Valenzuela, and came from feelings among activist communities that not enough was being done to reform Sacramento police — both at the city and county level.
Activists have been frustrated by what they feel is a lack of movement from Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. He’s proposed diverting $5 million away from the police to create a separate office to deal with mental health-related calls, and establishing an Inspector General position for the city. But many activists feel these reform efforts don’t go far enough.
Organizers say they’ll spend the next few weeks conducting surveys and collecting ideas from communities in hopes of putting together a “people’s budget” before Sacramento County adopts a new spending plan in October.
CapRadio’s Sarah Mizes-Tan contributed reporting to this story.
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