Six panelists spent the first hour of Councilman Mike Bonin’s town hall on reimagining public safety explaining how the majority of people in Los Angeles support defunding the police.
The panelists at the Zoom meeting were Dr. Melina Abdullah, Professor Michele Dumont, David Turner, Rev. Rae Chen Huang, Ricci Sergienko and Gilbert Johnson,
Turner, who majored in African Studies at Cal State Dominguez Hills and received his master’s in higher education at Penn, said that a survey from the People’s Budget LA (PBLA) coalition had been sent to more than 35,000 people, but since some lived outside of Los Angeles, they only counted 24,462 of the surveys that were returned. The PBLA, convened by the BLM-LA is made up of community organizations, faith leaders, nonprofit leaders and others dedicated to defunding the police department.
According to the Santa Monica Observer, “Although nearly 25,000 people responded to the survey, they were from a self-selected group of people already connected to PBLA. Surveys were only sent to those who attended the coalition’s town halls or who were connected to any of the 300 community organizations related to the coalition. Neither were the survey’s questions presented at Bonin’s town hall nor are they on PBLA’s website.” (Editor’s note: There are 3.9 million people in Los Angeles, the number of people surveyed represent 0.6 percent of the population.)
Two people from the Westside were on the panel: Dumont and Sergienko.
Dumont, a Mount St. Mary’s emeritus professor in philosophy, noted the huge homeless problem on the Westside. “I have experience in substance and mental health abuse,” she said, explaining that her neighbor had issues, which meant the police had been called and she was worried the person “would end up dead.” She said the police should be defunded and maybe gardens could be grown. “To grow vegetables, builds community. Police don’t make me feel good. Think about the $3.1 billion we give every year [to LAPD], what do we get? Pain and suffering.”
Sergienko, who organized a fundraiser for the People’s City Council Freedom Fund, which supplies support for bail, fines and court fees for arrested protesters, said: “A shout out to Mike Bonin for hosting this,” and he argued that defunding the police would free-up more money for bike lanes and public transportation. “We could transition away from the car culture, if we did not spend so much on police.”
Sergienko added that “We should roll back the money from the police and use it to subsidize green spaces.”
About an hour into the town hall, moderator Carol Costello presented the panel with questions from those who had been listening.
One person asked, “What about those of us who don’t support Black Lives Matter? Who do not want less police but want more enforcement?”
Abdullah, co-founder of BLM-LA and department chair of Pan-African Studies at Cal State L.A., said, “If you do not support BLM, you’re revealing who you are. How can you not support BLM? It’s telling about who you are. It’s telling about your ethics.”
“BLM is saying that black folks should matter and if you don’t [believe that] maybe society is not right for you,” said Sergienko, who is white. He explained that it’s racist to want more policing because from a white person’s point of view, they don’t understand the problem that police present to black communities.
Costello provided another viewer question, “If there is a violent homeless person, who should deal with that?”
Dumont said that there are agencies such as the St. Joseph’s Center and that “even the most disruptive person can be dealt with by those people.”
Abdullah interjected, “Why are people calling police for people not having homes?
“The answer to homeless is housing,” she said, adding that calling the police to handle a dangerously mentally ill person is “the kind of behavior that brings the murder of 618 people who’ve been killed by police in the last seven years. Calling the police on people for being homeless, calling police for people having mental health conditions, calling police on people for being poor, calling police on people for being black. Stop calling the police!”
(Editor’s note: The presentation is still available under videos on Mike Bonin’s facebook page. For those who would like to hear the audio for the questions, start at about 60 minutes.)
“I’m sure you must have good people in your district,” Abdullah told Bonin. “Most of the people who are unhoused are wonderful people. Do you know who are scary? White folks who call the police are scary. Police are scary.”
Costello continued with the questions. “The city has poured millions into the homeless, but the problem is still not solved,” said one viewer. “How do we know the money [taken from the police] will be used effectively?”
Panelist Turner started listing stats of unused police funds such as “$1.5 million for tasers that they don’t use because they shoot us anyhow.”
Costello said a viewer worried that it would take a long time to implement the divested funds into different programs, such as housing, health care and other programs.
Huang, an ordained Presbyterian pastor with a master’s degree in divinity from Boston University and a master’s in theology from Duke Divinity, is a leading organizer of L.A. Voice. He said, “If we don’t begin, nothing’s going to change. We keep finding excuses for keeping things the way they are.”
The panelists discussed BLM successes, which include a 35 percent budget cut for the LAUSD police, $150 million cut to the LAPD budget, and a $250 million pledge by the City Council to brown and black community groups.
Two projects are in the works: one for the City and one for the County. On June 30, Councilman Mike Bonin and Marqueece Harris-Dawson introduced legislation that would direct the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and other city staff to consult with community stakeholders and suggest alternative methods of enforcing traffic laws, such as speeding, illegal turns, and other vehicle code violations, that do not require armed officers.
BLM-LA is working to pass the ballot measure on for the November 3 election. If approved by voters, Reimagine L.A. would permanently shift ten percent of L.A. County unrestricted funding away from law enforcement to community services and programs.
After a quick speech by Bonin about the need to have difficult conversations, Abdullah concluded the town hall. “Some of these questions indicate the problem is much bigger than reimagining public safety. We need to talk about dismantling white supremacy. It’s a lot for black people to be responding to questions that white folk don’t see as racist but are.”
The Santa Monica Observer, in an August 19 opinion piece (“Plenty of Misleading and Deficient Ideas at Mike Bonin’s Town Hall on Reimagining Public Safety”) wrote: “Unfortunately, the 92 percent of police calls the panelists alleged were for nonviolent situations could turn violent in the blink of an eye. That’s why police are sent and not social workers or community organizers.
“Try finding a social worker or mental health professional who wants to confront a howling 200-pound maniac with a broken bottle. For that matter, try finding a majority of the public, even in far-left Brentwood, who wouldn’t prefer a policeman patrolling their block than a BLM operative.”