A recap of events that occurred within Atlanta City Council leading to its decision to vote down withholding of funds to the Atlanta Police Department
As Atlanta entered its fourth week of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, with tensions rising after the killing of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police officers coupled with intense public pressure laid onto Atlanta City Council to defund the police, a bit of confusion lingers as to what the hell exactly happened in yesterday’s city council meeting. Here’s a breakdown, with full context.
Atlanta City Council’s response to Atlanta’s cries to defund the police
On Mon., June 15, Atlanta City Council hosted a special call meeting in regards to the FY21 budget proposal, which allocates $272 million to the APD including a 6% increase of ~$14 million. The budget proposal also initially proposed an $18 million increase for the Atlanta City Detention Center facility, which has since been reduced and allocated, according the city of Atlanta’s official Instagram.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was present in Monday’s meeting to respond to comments and questions from city council members. We reported the exchange between Bottoms and city councilman Antonio Brown of District 3, the district in which Brooks was killed, in which Brown openly called for the mayor’s resignation. Brown has been an avid participant in marches across the city and was critical of Bottoms’ absence and general lack of leadership for the people in Atlanta. That exchange is recorded and can be found here.
The next day, city council hosted another session during which all members listened to about 17 hours’ worth of public comment in regards to the next year’s fiscal budget. Citizens were welcome to leave a message on the public comment line voicing their concerns up to two minutes at a time. The city council stated that day it had every intention of listening to every call; we have no reason at this moment to believe they didn’t. Since the city has mobilized for Black Lives Matter and began flooding city council’s phone lines, council members have overall heard thousands of calls, nearly all of which amplified what demonstrators are voicing in the streets: defund the police.
Following the session on Tuesday, council member Jennifer Ide of District 6 introduced legislation that proposed to withhold 50% of the APD budget while the city council worked with the mayor’s administration to implement reform and review use of force policies within the APD. Yesterday at 1 p.m., city council hosted another special call meeting to vote on this resolution. According to the AJC, the legislation initially had 12 sponsors, making it a veto-proof majority, but upon further reflection, some members removed their names.
We initially reported the approval of Resolution 20-R-4068 yesterday afternoon — essentially a commitment to “reimagine” the police which we assumed (and hoped) meant the council was moving forward to withhold some of the APD budget — but after a couple more hours, city council voted on another motion that changed the course, hindering feelings of success. While council members voted to approve the resolution, which readers can find here, another vote resulted in denying the motion in Ide’s proposal to actually amend the budget.
Two council members who voted yes on the resolution voted no on the ordinance that would have actually withheld funds: Michael Julian Bond, City Council Post 1 at-large, and Andrea Boone, District 10. During our listening of yesterday’s session, which we were unable to catch in full, we heard comments from Bond, Joyce Sheperd (District 12), and J.P. Matzigkeit (District 8).
Matzigkeit stated he did not support the amendment to withhold funds from the APD budget in FY21, because he wants to “send a clear message to the police that city council supports them.” (It is important to note that every APD officer actually received a $500 bonus the day after a high number of officers called out in what seemed to be an act of solidarity with the officers charged in Brooks’ murder.) Bond echoed the same sentiments, stating that raises to the APD will show they are “valued” and essentially boost morale, which Bottoms stated in a press conference last week is “down ten-fold” (no shit). Sheperd removed her name from the resolution and Marci Collier Overstreet, District 11, claimed all constituents she spoke with expressed “concerns about rising crime in their communities and wanted more police, not less.”
Council member Matt Westmoreland, Post 2 at-large, voted yes on both the resolution and ordinance, but in the same breath spoke highly of the city’s police officers and commended them for their service in “protecting protestors” throughout the past few weeks. (The same officers who, according to multiple eyewitness sources on the ground, have deployed tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors?) Sentiments such as these do not appear to reflect what’s actually going on or the relationship between protestors and the APD, which deserves its own recap from this weekend and will be delivered shortly.
During the session, Ide publicly expressed her frustrations with Atlanta City Financial Officer Roosevelt Council, who failed to respond to Ide’s request for specific information regarding the APD budget, which Ide said she’d been reaching out to his office for all morning. We personally heard Council ask what city council was asking about, illustrating yet another instance of extreme detachment between the mayor’s administration and the people. When he finally did respond and seemed to get with the program, Council referred to city contracts with the APD. After this call is when the budget amendment that originally sought to withhold 50% of the APD budget dwindled down to $73 million. That amendment, again, was ultimately voted down.
At the risk of editorializing, to hear city council members say they needed to provide financial security to what’s been proven to be a broken police department with ill-equipped officers was a disconcerting message to hear in the midst of a pandemic which has wreaked major uncertainty and turbulence in all of our communities, disproportionately affecting Black and brown people in Georgia. Further, it’s alarming that the APD receives a raise and a bonus after yet another instance of a Black man being murdered by APD officers, numerous instances of police brutality with peaceful demonstrators (don’t forget Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim), and calling out with the “blue flu.” This meeting ultimately turned the final screw in the people’s relationship with its current city council: it remains that it prioritizes the police over other essential services such as — oh, I don’t know — health care, for which our state received “painful” and massive budget cuts in January.
We could go on and on and talk in circles about the various comments from council members in the lengthy session yesterday, but the bottom line is this: Atlanta’s city council still failed to show up in any significant way yesterday, even though the resolution passing on its face appeared promising. Resolution 20-R-4068, which is published online on city council’s personal papers page, states “it is the intent of the city council to continue funding the current operations of the APD during the period in which a comprehensive review is conducted of the city’s approach to public safety.”
What does this mean? APD’s funding remains as slated in the budget and the ball goes to Mayor Bottoms and her administration’s court. Given the full context of Bottoms’ leadership, this is not reassuring, especially considering her clear allegiance with the APD at the expense of Black lives. Brown’s criticism of Bottoms during Monday’s session was not unfounded.
While we understand that there are future amendments that need to passed and further legislation to be considered, the fact remains that certain members of city council chose to ignore thousands of phone calls requesting (demanding) they defund the APD and reallocate funds to essential social and community services. Instead, certain members chose to remain loyal to a police force that has been yanking Black people out of cars (you can find complaints filed by the Atlanta Citizen Review Board here), killing Black people (we can’t forget the 2019 killings of Oscar Cain and Jimmy Atchison, and the others that came before them), and created an atmosphere in which young Black people and Black families do not feel safe in their own communities (words directly from council members Westmoreland and Brown) for years. None of this began with Brooks’ killing on June 12 and it was certainly not an isolated incident. Brooks’ death is the 48th police shooting the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigated in 2020 alone — and yes, that’s during a pandemic and during quarantine.
What we heard yesterday was more of the same in conversations of reform and was, frankly, a bit painful when the catastrophes happening on Black communities in Atlanta — whether that be police brutality, food deserts, homelessness, poverty, unemployment, everyday racism, the list goes on — are so glaringly obvious. The burden of proof should be lifted off the people to make it clear that the systems in place within our city’s police force are, simply put, rotten, and there’s no amount of training that will magically make it otherwise. The buck does not end with our police officers, but it goes on to the systems that enable them. This includes our city council, Mayor Bottoms, and her administration. We published a critical review of Bottoms’ “announcement of police reforms” earlier this week.
All offices are up for re-election next year. In the meantime, there is more work to do.
Council member Brown announced a further call to action on his Instagram, stating, “We need all of Atlanta to call in to every committee and full council meeting to demand we amend the budget and fund the resolution approved by council today. Reallocate $73M of police funds in order to reimagine public safety. We must stop the business of the city from moving forward until our demands are met.” According to the resolution as published online, it appears that $73 million would be allocated from the fiscal year’s third and fourth quarters, meaning city council has until December 31.
At the end of the day, what city council offered was more of the same: half measures that are not nearly good enough, especially considering the waves of unrest and discontentment voiced by the people. While other cities such as Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Albuquerque have seen sweeping changes within their police departments and budget cuts in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, the majority of Atlanta’s city leaders seem constitutionally incapable of instigating real and substantial change to help better their communities. Another world is possible, but they can’t seem to get the ball rolling.