The city budget for FY21 also shows an $18M increase for the Atlanta correctional facility
Correction: This article originally stated the Atlanta budget for FY21 included a 6% increase of $15 million for the Atlanta Police Department. It has since been clarified to us that the city budget reflected a 5.5% increase of $14 million; we’ve updated this article to reflect that clarification.
In the midst of protests erupting all over the nation demanding police reform and the defunding of the police in the name of Black Lives Matter, the city of Atlanta has released its proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021. The current fiscal year ends June 30.
Atlanta City Council members hosted an interactive department budget briefing this evening via Facebook Live and Twitter. The briefing was led by Jennifer Ide of City Council District 6.
The proposed budget reflects a 5.5% budget increase—$14 million—for the police force along with $18 million allocated to Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC), which Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms promised to close in 2018.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday that 298 arrests were made over the weekend, many for misdemeanors. Those arrested were booked into Atlanta city jail or Fulton County jail, depending on their charges, according to police.
On Saturday night, May 30—the first night the mayor’s curfew was in place— Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim were on their way home and were not involved in the night’s protests. The couple were assaulted by police which was caught on live television via 11 Alive. This incident illuminated the dire, urgent need for real police reform within the Atlanta Police Department.
As we’ve witnessed at a number of protests, one of the demands protestors are fighting for is the defunding of the police—and callers were sure that city council members heard it in case they weren’t hearing the pleas shouted from the streets. Many people, all Atlanta citizens, called in and left voicemails, recorded videos and sent via email, and sent direct text messages.
SONG ATL was among those who texted, saying, “We must defund and demilitarize our police force. We must invest in public health.” An overwhelming number of callers and messages cited the need to move funding “from cuffs to care” in regards to the ACDC’s $18M allocation in the budget.
Multiple citizens deemed these budget proposals “unconscionable” and “preposterous,” especially considering ongoing events and the current climate. One caller stated the “money should be directed away from incarceration and directed to protecting our communities. That money does not need to go to jails; that money needs to go to marginalized communities to help protect themselves from the pandemic.”
An Atlanta health care worker stated it is “appalling that there is an increase in police budget in light of current events,” especially with no indication of future “deregulations and policy changes.”
Another caller expressed the fear they felt for themselves and their friends who are currently protesting for their civil and human rights. Another caller said, “This is a crucial time for criminal justice and our city’s relationship to policing. This is a moment where half-measures for police reform will not do and will not be enough. We should move towards real transformation. A chance to do this is with next year’s budget.”
Nearly every call either demanded the defunding of police or removing the $18M for ACDC, or both.
In January 2020, Gov. Brian Kemp slashed 4% of the state’s healthcare budget. On April 27, Kemp re-opened the state during an increase in COVID cases in hopes of saving the economy. In Atlanta, a mere $1.5 million dollars were allocated to small businesses. The city faces a $40M deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Atlanta City Council.
City Chief Operating Officer Josh Williams briefly explained in response to the flood of questions regarding the increase in police budget and funding of ACDC. He stated that the ACDC budget is “reflective of its staffing level,” without addressing the fact that the mayor promised to close the jail in 2018. He continued to say that the APD budget increase is in part due to “pay raises that were agreed upon in 2018 as well as more body cameras and maintenance to support commitment to transparency and accountability.”
Dustin Hill, city council district 9, praised the APD and its officers’ training. He also emphasized the importance of the District Attorney’s role in holding officers accountable. The district attorney’s seat is up for re-election this year. Incumbent Paul Howard, Jr., Christian Wise Smith, and Fani Willis are all running for the seat.
The next mayoral race in Atlanta is in 2021.
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