Opinion » Shredder

Will of the people?

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Apparently, the SLO City Council didn't get the Black Lives Matters (BLM) and Cal Poly Students for Quality Education (SQE) memo about defunding the police because instead of lowering the city's police funding, the newly passed two-year budget increases it.

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"The people have spoken," says the infographic being distributed by BLM and SQE. "We've said that we don't need police, we don't want police: we want investment in our communities instead!"

I hear you, but do we know the will of the people? We certainly know the will of the squeaky wheels, but I'm guessing the vast majority of San Luis Obispans are scared shitless of the idea of defunding the police. Who will drive the homeless out of city parks? Who will fine the noisy students for parties in residential neighborhoods? Who will recover the stolen catalytic converters for their Priuses? Who will take missing cat reports?

For their part, BLM and SQE see bloated police budgets as taking resources away from the community: "It calls for new investment in servers and information for them; it calls for upgrades to the police fleet of vehicles; it's FULL of more investment in something the people have been clear they don't want to see!"

Here's the thing. All those BLM protests were inspiring, but they were also divisive. For every protester you show me, I can show you a seething resident who's pissed the city spent around $800,000 trying to control protesters who spilled onto Highway 101 and disrupted people's lives—and before you go there, yes, I know the point of a protest is to afflict the comfortable. My point is you don't know the will of the people. You know the will of the movement.

Here's what the city said it would do at the June 1 City Council meeting. When a mental health emergency call comes in to 911, the dispatcher will assess whether it's a police matter or if it's better to send an EMT and social worker. It's a baby step, to be sure, but it's a step. The police abolitionists weren't having it, of course. It's all or nothing with them right now, and that's a recipe for nothing.

"Social workers must not be complicit in a system of violence founded on racial oppression," Michael Barros commented. "People will be no doubt afraid to seek help or communicate with social workers due to a fear of incarceration or police violence. How mental health callers respond is still up to the decision of the 911 dispatchers. Contracting a social worker with the PD is not divestment."

I get it. Justice deferred is justice denied. Yes, our homeless community and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPoC) have waited more than long enough for a reform of our broken system. There's absolutely no question injustice abounds. BLM wants to fix it all with a one-size-fits-all solution that, in fact, doesn't fit all.

I know it's hard to get behind the SLO Police Department right now. We had a police chief who left her gun in an El Pollo Loco bathroom, which set off a witch-hunt. We had a police commander who was promising pizza parties if officers could meet DUI arrest quotas. It's easy to argue this department is staffed by Keystone Cops, but they got the reprobate that murdered Rachel Newhouse and Aundria Crawford, and when you see someone peering through your windows, it's nice to have someone to call.

Others may complain about our police pay. SLOPD Officers make about 25 percent more than the national average, but they have to live in SLO County, which has a 16.5 percent higher cost of living than the national average. New Chief of Police Rick Scott noted that nearly all of the police budget is personnel costs, meaning salaries and pensions. Where are you going to cut? Pensioners earned their pension. It was a promise.

The new city budget allocated $38 million over the next two years to expand housing options for all, "with an emphasis on affordable and workforce housing, and to bridge the homeless services gap currently affecting the entire SLO County region," according to a press release. There's even "about" $2 million devoted to "diversity, equity, and inclusion."

I know if you're a BLM stalwart, this all seems like window dressing and half measures. The infographic begins with the statement, "Budgets are moral documents," but everyone should know it's pretty near impossible to argue about competing morality. It's a nonstarter! If you're not willing to compromise on anything, what makes you think you'll get anywhere?

If we really want to know the will of the people, we need to gather signatures and get competing ballot measures into the next election that will specifically say what police duties should be and how much funding they should get for doing them. Also, we should be specific about what community funding we want and how much it should be.

Let people vote. Then we'll know the will of the people. Until then, we know what BLM and SQE want, but we don't know if that aligns with what the whole community wants. Δ

The Shredder wants to re-fund neighborhood ice cream trucks. Send queries and suggestions to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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