A coalition of organizations in Long Beach is releasing its annual People’s Budget next Tuesday, June 16 before the Long Beach City Council meeting. The budget itself is a collaborative effort of the Long Beach chapter of Black Lives Matter, Long Beach Forward, SanctuaryLB, the Long Beach Housing Justice Coalition and many others.
“One of the things we’re really centering is divestment from the police department,” Long Beach Forward Associate Director James Suazo said. “Nationally we’re seeing a huge call to defund the police. This people’s budget is definitely in line with that and talking about defunding the police department and this pattern of targeting these low income communities of color and criminalizing poverty.”
This past week, demonstrations against police brutality have taken place across the city. Many protesters are calling for divestment from the police department through chants, posters and social media posts.
Allocating funds to communities of color
Though the official budget hasn’t been released, Suazo said a main component of the proposal is reallocation of city funds to communities of color.
“The second step to it is actually reinvesting those monies in black lives and communities of color, and redefining, and reimagining what community safety looks like,” Suazo said.
Long Beach Forward (LBF) is a project of Community Partners, a nonprofit that assists local organizations in nonprofit projects, coalitions and philanthropy. Long Beach Forward is just one of almost 200 groups that have received assistance from the organization.
The 2021 People’s Budget will be the group’s third iteration of the proposal. The budget itself is a collaborative effort of multiple organizations in Long Beach, including the Long Beach chapter of Black Lives Matter, SanctuaryLB and the Long Beach Affordable Housing Coalition.
The 2021 People’s Budget will be the group’s third iteration of the proposal. Each year, the Long Beach City Council receives a budget proposal in July for the following fiscal year.
Last year, LB Forward requested a $530,000 allocation for language access programs and translation services. The council ended up approving $80,000 for a language access program. They also asked for a $500,000 one-time allocation to reach “hard-to-count” residents for the 2020 census. The city allocated $600,000.
“I’m really excited because [the 2021 People’s Budget] is bolder than ever before and it’s really about, in past conversations too, it’s always been about reversing structural inequity,” Suazo said. “These are patterns. It is ignorant to say that we’re ignoring the influences around this. We recognize that the police unions have a lot of influence in the city as well.”
He referred to a recent FORTHE article detailing the fact that the Long Beach Police Officers Association has contributed over half a million dollars to political committees led by Mayor Robert Garcia, including $90,000 in the first few months of 2020.
Citizens unsatisfied with council’s current approach
At the Tuesday, June 9 city council meeting, councilmembers Rex Richardson, Jeannine Pearce, Dee Andrews and Al Austin requested city manager Tom Modica to draft a “framework for reconciliation.”
Several Long Beach residents sent in e-comments on the item. Out of thirteen total e-comments, two voiced support for LBPD and stressed the importance of a police presence in the city. Seven directly called for the council to defund or divest from the police. One critiqued the legitimacy of the Citizen Police Complaint Commission.
“I am writing today to ask what Mayor Robert Garcia is doing to defund the police and redistribute funds to the city,” Karla Wallace wrote, citing how he’s benefitted from funds from the LBPOA. “Until Mayor Garcia acknowledges his conflict of interest, he is complicit in [the] machine of racial injustice.”
The framework for reconciliation includes a request to potentially reform the Citizen Police Complaint Commission to “strengthen independence, transparency, and oversight,” increase police body camera transparency and “budget reforms to ensure equitable investment in community safety, including youth development, housing, healthcare, public health, and economic equity.”
Despite these potential reforms, citizens continue to call for direct divestment from the police department.
“Will you defund the police? They get billions in funding while you cut all social programs to actually help the community,” third district resident Erika Pinto wrote. “We want a community generated system and for funds to be allocated away from statistically proven abusive police brutality. Instead fund the people.”
“A lot of people, in this moment right now, are calling for defunding the police and looking at the city budget, but may not be familiar with the ins and outs of how the city budget actually works, what it looks like, and all those different pieces,” Suazo said. “We’re going to make that accessible to people.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that James Suazo was the executive director of Long Beach Forward. He is the associate director. It also stated that the People’s Budget will be released Thursday, June 11, as we were informed by James Suazo. The People’s Budget will now be released next Tuesday, June 16.