Guest columnists Aaron Clark, Ryan Wadsworth and Mary Jones: Remember June 2020 when considering police budget

  • Jasmine Sinclair, left, of Black Trans Lives Matter, dances to the beat of a chant shouted by several thousand people who marched to Northampton City Hall during the “Stand Up for Black Lives!” protest on June 6, 2020. Gazette file photo

Published: 6/13/2021 3:25:11 PM

Just one year ago, an estimated 4,500 people packed the streets of Northampton to declare with one voice that Black Lives Matter. Over 500 people flooded Northampton City Council’s budget hearings, giving over seven hours of testimony addressing the daily violence, harassment and harm that community members endure at the hands of the Northampton Police Department.

The public mandate was clear: we must address racism in our own community by defunding the NPD and moving its responsibilities to peer responders. On Thursday, June 17, Northampton’s elected officials will deliberate and vote on next year’s budget.

Faced with immense public pressure last summer, the City Council cut the NPD budget by 10%, and Mayor David Narkewicz himself stated, “I am committed to working with the City Council to address the larger systemic issues of institutional racism and bias laid bare once again by the tragic killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020.”

This budget cycle, Mayor Narkewicz has now proposed a budget that increases funding to the NPD by nearly 3%, and that severely underfunds the Department of Community Care. Several city councilors have already expressed their support for this continuation of the racist status quo.

This betrayal follows seven months of meetings and data-driven research led by residents of color as part of the Northampton Policing Review Commission, a group charged with creating a roadmap for Northampton to reimagine public safety beyond policing. During public comments our neighbors bravely shared painful stories of being racially profiled, harassed, and forcibly removed from their dwellings by the NPD. They told stories of how the police escalate nonviolent situations into violence, and make violent situations worse.

The commission called on the city to establish and fund a new Department of Community Care, accountable to those targeted by policing, and to immediately reduce the footprint of the NPD by moving responsibilities like wellness checks, suspicious persons calls and nonviolent public assembly to more appropriate peer crisis responders.

Mayor Narkewicz’s proposed budget allocates about $424,000 for the new department, or less than half of the recommended, effectively preventing the department from hiring any crisis responders, or community advisory board members, in its first year. The money the budget is expected to cover the hiring of a project coordinator, administrative assistant and data analysis resources.

This is unacceptable. Northampton Abolition Now is demanding that the City Council reject Mayor Narkewitz’s budget and insist that he create one that reduces the size, scope, power and budget of the NPD. The City Council and mayor still have an opportunity to create a budget commensurate with our values, and we urge them to rise to this occasion. Specifically, we are asking that the mayor fully fund the Department of Community Care by $882,000 to $1 million, reassign the above responsibilities of the NPD to other city departments, and defund the NPD by 50% to invest in alternatives.

If you have a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard, if you joined us in the streets last summer, if you came to those grueling City Council meetings last budget cycle, it is time to show up again with the same vigor and conviction that you did this time last year to demand better of Northampton’s elected officials. To the white allies among us, we urge you to resist the pull of complacency that keeps white supremacy intact and threatens the safety and well-being of our friends and neighbors. For a majority of non-Black residents, it was, is, and always will be all too easy to go back to our “normal” lives where we do not need to think about the harm that police cause.

We do not need to fear suspicion, harassment, or the possibility of incarceration or worse because of an inspection sticker that is a day overdue, a turn signal light that has burnt out, or a favorite song turned up too high that might draw the attention of the police.

Last year we called for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and too many others to name here, and we also did something even greater — we dared to dream of a world where the police can no longer harass, surveil, penalize, incarcerate and kill Black and brown people. We dare to dream of a world without policing.

The Policing Review Commission gave us a roadmap to make possible the vision of a community with safety for all, at the expense of none. Join us in calling upon our elected officials to make this vision a reality.

The authors represent North ampton Abolition Now. Aaron Clark and Ryan Wadsworth are from Northampton; Mary Jones is from Holyoke.

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