Community groups oppose proposed City of Atlanta Fiscal Year 2022 budget, citing increases to funding for police and corrections, failure to address community needs
ATLANTA — On April 16, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms submitted the Fiscal Year 2022 proposed city budget to Atlanta City Council and council members hosted budget hearings throughout last month. According to official budget proposals, the proposed budget seeks to increase funding for the Atlanta Police Department by $16 million. This budget increase marks a record-high of nearly $276 million for a department whose budget inflates consistently every year.
The proposed city budget also proposes increased funding for the Department of Corrections from $3.5 million in Fiscal Year 2021 to nearly $14 million. According to local organizers at Defund APD, Refund Communities (DARC), this is a move that “willfully ignores the Reimagining ACDC Task Force Report’s recommendations for the future of the city’s empty jail, and contradicts promises by City officials to close the Atlanta City Detention Center by Dec. 2020” [sic]. To learn more about the city jail and its role in mass incarceration in the City of Atlanta, read our in-depth feature here.
In response to the city’s proposed budget, a coalition of organizations and residents have joined together to express their opposition to Mayor Bottoms’ budget proposal. In an official press release sent from DARC, organizers say, “Given the budget’s failures to appropriately and adequately fund community needs and services, such as real affordable housing, services for Atlanta’s houseless community, food accessibility, public and mental health services, and real, safe alternatives to policing … this group demands that City Council amend the FY22 budget to reallocate money from policing and incarceration to community services.” The demands are currently being sent to Atlanta city council members and the mayor.
While the State of Georgia did pass anti-defund legislation in April — HB 286, a reactive and Republican-sponsored piece of legislation spearheaded by Athens district representative Houston Gaines — organizers continue to push for divesting from and demilitarizing the APD in order to better provide for communities in need. The bill is expected to be enacted on July 1. Although some city Democrats have pointed to HB 286 to explain why they can’t defund the police, The Mainline has obtained a statement and legal interpretation from Southern Center for Human Rights summarizing the legislation and clarifying exceptions to the prohibition. SCHR adamantly opposed the legislation as it was made its way through the state legislature this year. SCHR’s statement essentially outlines that defunding the police is not deemed impossible in light of HB 286’s passage.
When asked about how HB 286 factors into the #NotOurBudget campaign and DARC’s core organizing team provided us with this statement: “We are operating with an interpretation of HB286 from the Southern Center for Human Rights which suggests that the bill leaves a pathway to defunding the police by holding public hearings about the budget reallocation and advertising the potential changes in a local newspaper. If our interpretation is wrong, then HB286 is unconstitutional and should be fought in court. It does not change our demands nor our vision for a safer, liberated Atlanta.”
DARC will be hosting two events this weekend, including a community canvass on Sat., June 5, and a film screening of the organization’s #NotOurBudget testimonials on Sun., June 6 at Noni’s Bar & Deli. DARC writes that at Sunday’s event, Atlanta residents and leaders of community groups will “share testimonials on why the proposed budget does not represent their community’s needs and demand that City Council amend the budget to defund the Atlanta Police Department by 30%. These demands as presented represent just the first step of a longer process of defunding, demilitarizing, and divesting from the Atlanta Police Department, disrupting police brutality, and refunding communities.”
A summary of the coalition’s demands can be read in full here. The coalition includes community members and organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America, Black Futurists Group, Community Movement Builders, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Georgia Freedom Letters, Justice for Georgia, Sol Underground, Women on the Rise GA, and others. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s important to note that this publication and myself have also signed on the coalition’s “Demands for a Safer Atlanta.”
DARC and its coalition join countless organizers and community members across the country who continue to forge the path of the Defund the Police movement, with hopes of joining the ranks of other communities that saw their demands answered last year. According to “The Demand is Still #DefundThePolice #FundThePeople #DefendBlackLives: Lessons from 2020” by Interrupting Criminalization, city victories from last year include Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, Oakland, Boston, Berkeley, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia. As a result of organizing efforts across the nation, over $461 million dollars have been moved to fund community programs that otherwise would have remained in police departments.