Arts council member explains vote on PD cut

A recent article in the Gazette, “Arts Council backs police cut,” (April 22), reported about a recent Northampton Arts Council discussion...

A recent article in the Gazette, “Arts Council backs police cut,” (April 22), reported about a recent Northampton Arts Council discussion and the vote taken to support the three demands of Northampton Abolish Now (NAN).

In the article, I was identified as the sole Arts Council member to cast a vote against supporting NAN’s demands. I’d like to take this opportunity to both explain my reasons for my vote and to urge the mayor and the Northampton City Council to ensure that the budget for fiscal 2022 includes funding to support meaningful steps for implementing the recommendation of the Policing Review Commission to establish a Department of Community Care or some comparable municipal structure.

My objections to NAN’s demands:

■The demand to create a Department of Community Care is sound, and if established, it should certainly prioritize the population that has been systematically disadvantaged and marginalized. In addition I can imagine a broader focus on quality of life issues that impact most of us at one time or another, whether that be related to housing, food insecurity, economic opportunity, health care, or response to a personal or natural disaster.

My objection to NAN’s demand is to their extended explanation: “… ultimate decision-making power within the Department of Community Care, including the power to hire and fire personnel and design and implement programming, must be in the hands of those most harmed by state violence, anti-Blackness, colonialism, and systemic racism.”

While accountability to those the department is meant to serve is essential, just as the School Department is accountable to the families and students directly served by public schools, it is the responsibility of the entire community to ensure that each of us is well served by the proposed department.

■The demand to reduce the Police Department budget by 50% for fiscal 2022 is not backed up with a specific description of who would provide the services, how the department would be organized, and how the police department would adjust to the 50% reduction of funds.

Even if the ultimate goal is, at a minimum, worthy of serious consideration, the timeline is unrealistic. Without a significantly more detailed plan, I cannot imagine the mayor, the city councilors, or the voting public will support such a change beginning this summer. I would not want my city councilor to approve such a change in the budget at this time.

These two objections aside, I believe our local government must dismantle structures and systems that maintain systemic inequality and establish systems prioritizing the safety and well-being of all members of our community. As the National Priority Project examines the federal budget, we must understand how expenditures in our city’s budget are in conflict with our values.

NAN has compiled a list of resources on its website that address the need for dramatic change, and those resources echo the case made by well-respected national organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Movement for Black Lives (M4BL).

In addition, the data shared in the Northampton Policing Review Commission’s report makes a compelling case for reconsidering the use of armed police officers. The overwhelming majority of calls for assistance require a range of skills, but not weapons training.

We are fortunate, as we watch color and diverse life forms transform the landscape and the way we live, to have an annual reminder that dramatic renewal is possible. It is time for us to make the same kind of dramatic change we see in nature. Systemic inequality must be confronted head on.

As the mayor prepares to present his budget for fiscal 2022, we have an opportunity to advocate for a city budget that reflects the urgent need to address the many challenges we face in moving toward a community that is sustainable in terms of natural as well as human resources.

And, as we consider the candidacies of those who emerge to fill expected vacancies in city government, we should support candidates who are prepared to advance the excellent work already begun to establish a resiliency hub, to implement the recommendations of the Policing Review Commission, to reimagine downtown, and to ensure all members of our community are able to contribute to and be enriched by the many assets of our community.

Freeman Stein is a member of the Northampton Arts Council.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Arts council member explains vote on PD cut
Arts council member explains vote on PD cut
Newsrust - US Top News
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