Dear Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake City Council,
Despite our community’s rallying emails, calls, public hearing comments, and protests asking you to defund our police department by at least $30 million, you have failed to listen to us. You disregarded the work and research the community did for you, instead choosing to implement failed reformist policies. What good is banning excessive use of force, such as chokeholds, when an officer is still allowed to employ these methods under their own judgement and continually exploit these loopholes with no accountability? What good are body cameras when officers were not held accountable in the murder of Patrick Harmon in 2017?
Council, you asked that we “stick with [you] in this conversation.” We are well past the need for dialogue and conversations, and equitable action has been long overdue. Our Black and Brown community members—as well as queer, trans, disabled, undocumented, and poor communities—matter every day, not just when they are murdered and used as your “opportunity” for a discussion. Throughout these past three weeks, BIPOC folks have shared and relived their experiences, stories, and traumas. And our marginalized communities have also been speaking for far longer. You say that you are listening, yet you continue to enable institutional forms of violence by overfunding the police and attempting to reform a racist system despite its failures in cities across the nation. Exploiting the traumas of our BIPOC community members for your own personal gain of “dialogue” is violence, and you are not only complicit in but actively upholding systemic racism.
The 30% cut we suggested was both aggressive and reasonable. We echoed the calls from Reclaim the Block in Minneapolis and readjusted the percentage to match Salt Lake City’s budget. We did not propose slashing the allocation in half. We called on you to take the first step in decreasing reliance on police and transitioning to other models of public safety. Your city employees were able to find us and deliver updates on meeting technicalities, but neither the mayor’s office nor the city council reached out to us to have an open dialogue or clarify your confusions around the reasoning of our demands—conversations that you claim commitment to.
This cut to the budget isn’t a call to abandon our communities to disorder and chaos. It’s no secret that what we understand as “crime” is often a complex manifestation of social ills (poverty, houselessness, broken interpersonal relationships, etc). Without addressing those ills, how can we foster safety? Moreover, if our model of public safety is based on retributive punishment, as policing inherently is, then we criminalize behaviors while fundamentally failing to prevent their root causes. The request to reallocate funding so it can more positively affect the material well-being and livelihood of our community members before they find themselves confronted (or locked away) by the SLCPD isn’t out of touch: it’s a call to begin building a world where police aren’t the solution to greater societal and systemic failures.
You spoke on the radio about your desire to listen to the community. We gave you a clear message: defund the police, and invest that money back into supportive community efforts. Instead, you chose to ignore the vast majority of our community members’ comments and to work on your own reforms, which are both disappointing and inadequate.
The adopted FY20-21 budget is the “solution” you said you wanted to avoid, “a band-aid that doesn’t stop the bleeding.”
- You claimed to reduce the budget by over 5 million dollars. This is untrue. $2.8 million is in a “holding” account; SLCPD can still be granted all of this holding account money with the council’s approval. The remaining $2.5 million of “cuts” is allocated to social workers within the police department. If access to mental healthcare is mediated by policing, how can we ensure that those who are already alienated by our carceral system are still able to access quality care? How do we make sure they are not pathologized and criminalized for their mental illness, or that the police are not (eventually or initially) presented as the solution in a mental health crisis?
- At the council work session, you questioned whether spending $1.3 million on body cameras was a wise idea, yet ultimately determined that you did not feel comfortable sending an officer into a job without them. If you cannot trust the police force to do their job, why are you employing them? Furthermore, if officers are not held accountable even when they are caught killing on camera, what purpose do body cameras serve? Will that footage ensure that those officers are fired, barred from receiving pensions, and ineligible for any sort of paid administrative leave? Will body cameras ensure that our tax dollars don’t go toward paying officers’ misconduct settlements? The loss perpetuated by police violence cannot be understated, and we are loath to believe that we are safer when the families of those killed by SLCPD can be traumatized by watching the death of their loved ones. Body cameras don’t stop brutality—they just make it visible. Is that the most you are willing to do for justice? For safety?
- You are asking for an unidentified third party to examine the budget of the SLCPD. We demand more transparency in this process: to whom are you deferring in deciding the future of Salt Lake’s public safety? Why is the allocation of SLCPD’s budget withheld from the public? Can a third party truly be neutral? How can we trust that the SLCPD budget is aimed at increasing public safety when we have no idea how much is allocated to various police activities? If you want to promote transparent policing, start with its budget.
- Additionally, you proposed to create a City Commission on Racial Equity in Policing. Who is going to be on this commission? Whose voices will be heard? Why are you investing money into a new commission to do what organizers in Salt Lake City have already been doing? Are we meant to believe that this commission, as opposed to previous commissions, will have the necessary political sway to hold SLCPD, which denies the existence of structural racism in the department, accountable? Or will the input of commission members be dismissed and overridden at the discretion of the SLCPD and/or police unions? Don’t patronize us with false dialogue; this looks like an additional bureaucratic hurdle disguised as community input.
You expressed concern that community members would lose interest in these issues. Organizers in Salt Lake City have been doing this work and will continue to; we will not stop until the needs of all our BIPOC, queer, trans, disabled, undocumented, and poor communities are met. Prison and police abolition is not new and it is not impossible. Abolition has been theorized, built, and refined by radical Black feminists and social justice advocates for decades. There are plenty of places you can learn about it, and we encourage you to work with our community to divest from the police and invest in our people. As you noted, defunding $30 million won’t “fix” 400 years of entrenched racism; but it would certainly do more than the minute changes you have proposed. Defunding was our first demand, but it won’t be our last.
This is a pivotal moment in our city’s history and we hope to see you—Erin, James, Andrew, Chris, Ana, Darin, Dan, and Amy—on the right side of it.