EAST POINT, Ga. — A group of protesters who started a march in East Point on Thursday say it’s time to cut funding to their police department and move that money directly into the community.
It’s a debate not many people were having even a month ago, but the idea has been growing bigger and bigger after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Monteria Robinson has spent four years calling for criminal charges against officers with a federal task force who shot her son 76 times.
“You got to dismantle it, and you got to start over,” Robinson said. “I will not stop fighting until I get my justice for my son Jamarion Robinson.”
Robinson joined a growing number of people across the country calling for a “defunding” of police departments.
“You also got police officers that don’t step in when things are being done improperly, so really you got to defund,” Robinson said.
Some activists say police shootings will decrease when funding for police departments is increased in other areas.
“Anything from giving raises to public defenders, so that folks that are protecting folks’ constitutional rights to legal counsel are well-funded and able to do their jobs well, funding a social worker in the public defender’s office so defendants can get access to resources they need,” said Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker.
Parker has been leading protests and is now asking for change in how her county’s police department is run.
She wants to transition 50% of Athens’ armed officer positions to other forms of community crisis response over the next 10 years.
“So not hiring any new cops and instead hiring a new mental health co-responder team so that folks who are experiencing mental health crises – be it day or night – there’s someone that can come to you and help de-escalate the situation and connect you with resources you need,” Parker said.
But NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce says it would create a dangerous environment.
“Police officers do so much for the community and to defund that is to take away from that,” Boyce said.
He says after the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who died when a New York City police officer put him in a choke hold, he saw a lot of policing change.
Boyce said taking funding from police could hurt programs that help community policing, like public affairs and hurt low-income communities.
“Those in disadvantaged communities will pay the highest price because that’s where the crime is. That’s where we need to be. We need to be sensitive, but we also need to be there,” Boyce said.
Georgia State University’s Thaddeus Johnson was with the Memphis Police Department for 10 years. Now he’s finishing his doctoral research on social justice, including police professionalism and how officers’ education impacts outcomes.
He said we should change how law enforcement is funded, but not defund their budget.
“Let’s take these monies and let’s reinvest into the police force. If we want people with college backgrounds, we want people who are well trained, want people with military backgrounds, we have to pay them,” Johnson said.
He said police budgets should have fewer line items for military-style vehicles and tear gas and more salary and benefits for officers, so they’re not working security jobs in their free time to make ends meet.
“Just last year we had a record number of suicides in law enforcement. They’re grieving, they happen to feel ostracized. We have to remind them that they’re part of our community. And without that we can’t help real reform,” Johnson said.
In East Point, organizers of Thursday’s protest say that reforming communities should be the priority.
“Our goal is to work with council to help advise on how to reinvest those dollars into our community and into our people,” protest organizer Lacie Pierre said.
But Councilman Joshua B. Butler IV said local funding for the level of social services that are being discussed may not be possible.
“I support increasing resources to social programs, but those resources have to come from a state level and from a federal level. It’s impossible to try and deliver those services collecting property taxes,” Butler said.
For Robinson, what is a complex debate can be reduced to the one thing she started asking four years ago.
“We need to hold these officers accountable,” Robinson said.
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