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Organizations call for 'people's budget,' divestment from Sacramento law enforcement

Sacramento Bee logoSacramento Bee 7/15/2020 By Molly Burke, The Sacramento Bee

“Whose budget? Our budget!”

Chants could be heard between speakers outside of Tuesday’s Sacramento County Board of Supervisors meeting at the county administration building downtown, where a coalition of organizations hosted a news conference calling for the divestment of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.

The coalition included Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, Anti-Police Terror Project, Black Justice, Building Healthy Communities, Decarcerate Sacramento, Justice2Jobs, Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT), Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Sacramento, The Center at Sierra Health Foundation and United Way California Capital Region. Sacramento City Councilwoman-elect Katie Valenzuela also spoke at the event.

The organizers demanded a “people’s budget” that better reflects what citizens prioritize, including allocating more funds to housing, healthcare, mental health and youth programs.

The Board of Supervisors approved a placeholder budget keeping all funding the same across departments on June 16 that extends the current budget of more than $4 billion until September.

The calls to divest from law enforcement and invest in community-led programs reflects a nationwide movement to “defund the police.” Similar demands have been leveled at the Sacramento Police Department.

The Rev. Kevin Ross of Unity of Sacramento International Spiritual Center and ACT said that the $277 million in funding the Sheriff’s Office currently receives from the county is far too much.

“We’re tired of seeing our people perish at the hands of law enforcement,” Ross said.

Ross led chants with the crowd, saying “Our future’s bright because we’re here.”

Keyan Bliss of the Anti-Police Terror Project highlighted that the pandemic has only further shown inequalities that have been facing marginalized communities for years.

Due to economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus, many in Sacramento are struggling to pay their rent or mortgage. Zoe Kipping, co-founder of Sac Solidarity of Unhoused People (SOUP), said that the coronavirus has only further highlighted the vulnerability of unhoused people.

Sac SOUP began providing “survival gear” and daily meals as they saw a void of services during the pandemic.

“We know that as COVID continues, we’re going to see more displacement,” Kipping said.

Organizers emphasized the importance of funding housing, mental health and rehabilitation services to aid those living with housing insecurity, criticizing the criminalization and police enforcement against homeless people as ineffective.

Asantewaa Boykin called for investment in mental health resources to respond to incidents without police. She’s a part of Mental Health First, a project run by the Anti Police-Terror Project in which volunteers respond to emergencies, aiming to deescalate without punitive actions. Mental Health First hopes to be an alternative to police response, which they believe leads to violence and escalation.

“Our volunteers should be paid. Our staff should be paid. Not only should they be paid, they should be paid by police dollars,” Boykin said.

Araiye Thomas-Haysbert of the Black Child Legacy Campaign and Building Healthy Communities, advocated shifting funding toward youth programs that keep juveniles engaged in positive activities.

She demanded county transparency with the budget, calling for funding to be shifted from law enforcement to community-led violence and crisis prevention.

“If we don’t, nobody will,” Thomas-Haysbert said.

Sheriff Scott Jones criticized Tuesday’s call for divestment on Facebook, pointing to violence in cities across the nation that have “entertained this lunacy.”

Jones asked community members to contact supervisors to show their support for the Sheriff’s Office.

“Let’s continue to discuss how we can be better and more responsive to all our communities, but our elected officials’ first and foremost responsibility is to ensure the safety of citizens,” Jones wrote in the social media post.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will review a new budget on Sept. 9.

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©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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