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Community activists explain what local calls to defund the police mean

Community activists explain what local calls to defund the police mean
Posted at 5:35 PM, Jun 12, 2020

Growing calls to defund the police are coming out of protests nationwide including in Lansing.

Paul Birdsong and Sheretta Collins have been of the loudest of them all, leading protests at the Capitol every night. Birdsong was encouraged by Collins to take the lead and not let the activism die down.

"I said I think it's time for this to be an everyday thing because that's the only way things are ever going to change," said Collins.

Among the groups biggest requests was a major reduction in the Lansing Police Department's budget, which was around $45 million in 2019.

"You can't take nothing that's started for the wrong reasons and flip it. It was slave catcher patrol. You can't take something that started off as slave catcher patrol and say it's to protect and serve the very people it was meant to enslave and kill back in the day," said Birdsong.

They, along with other activists, are calling for money to be reallocated from police budgets to mental health, social workers, public schools and community programs.

"When you have a police force that gets the majority, the majority of the city's budget. One in three of our tax dollars are going straight to the police, but there is zero, no money going to neighborhood and citizen engagement. That's a problem," said Collins.

Co-founder of Lansing's black lives matter chapter, Angela Waters Austin and founder of One Love Global, says the ultimate goal of defunding the police is to gradually decrease the amount of tax dollars the city spends on police.

"We want a million in the first year and then we want to exceed that reduction overtime until we actually get the police force down to the barest minimum that it actually takes to maintain public safety and we don't actually know what that is yet. But we haven't actually operated in a world where policing was based on keeping people safe," said Austin.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor has pledged to take $100,000 from the city's police budget, but Waters says it will take much more.

"Actually taking a big chunk out at the very start because it's going to take money to plan. It's going to take money to research. You don't just kind of dive in. This is very thoughtful. We didn't just get to abolition overnight. We didn't just get to abolition because George Floyd was murdered. The conversation of abolition, the people who have been fighting and moving this idea of divesting from systems of power and investing into systems of safety, that conversation existed before me," said Austin.

Earlier this week, Lansing Police Chief Darryl Green said he agrees with the need to spend more on things like schools and mental health, but not at the expense of the police department.

"I think that proper funding of all of those entities is valuable and certainly important," Chief Green said. "I believe in supporting the police department with more assets and more resources particularly for training."

Opponents have claimed the ideas are radical, but Austin says conversations are already happening across the nation.

"Dr. King was considered a radical," said Austin. "A lot of it has to do with the way that the status quo positions itself as what is normal and what is safe and what is to be trusted and anything outside of that is considered radical.

"It is about being smart about where we invest our money because it's not just a matter of defund the police and then everything is going to be fine. It is taking a look at where we put our money, because the budget reflects our values," Austin added. "It's also the opportunity to re-imagine what public safety looks like. We have never had the opportunity to imagine a world without cops with guns and badges who at any moment can take your life and get away with it."

Neither Mayor Schor or Chief Green were available for an interview Friday.

Some activists working for police reform argue against using the term "defund the police." They say it comes across like a call to eliminate police departments.