‘Defund the Police’ has been the cry at protest marches all over the country in this past month, and like any slogan, it requires a bit of contemplation. While stemming directly from the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, it is also a response to decades of violent oppression by police departments across the country. Cities across America are making changes, and Culver City has stepped into the moment with multiple community conversations to address the issue.
While the call to ‘defund the police’ had been interpreted as everything from simple budget cuts to reallocate financial resources to a complete dismantling of the policing system, how Culver City will take on the challenge is undetermined. The City Council meeting tonight, June 22, 2020 at 7 pm will revisit the issue of the annual budget, and is expected to accept cuts to the police as well as other departments.
Last week, there were two phone calls offered to the pubic as meetings on the topic of police reform. The first, entitled “Decoding the ‘Defund the Police’ Movement – Gaining an Understanding,” took place on June 18 at 5 pm online. The four featured speakers – Mayor Goran Eriksson, Chamber President Colin Diaz, Acting Chief of Police Manny Cid, and School Board President Summer McBride all answered questions that were submitted by viewers, and offered their own thoughts on the current national movement.
Eriksson has been on the city council since 2016, but only just began a mayoral term in April. Cid has served with CCPD for 15 years, but took the position of acting chief only last week, so there was the perspective of taking on a job only to have priorities shift dramatically. McBride has been serving on the school board since 2017, while also teaching parenting classes for women who are incarcerated. In addition, her spouse is a police officer, so McBride truly had a depth and breadth of perspective on the topic. Diaz facilitated the conversation.
As with so many other conversations through the country, Cid held the police focus that “a few bad apples” were making the whole force and indeed, the whole concept of policing look bad. He was sure that the budget could be cut, and quickly, in some minimal fashion. He also addressed the issue of ‘over-tasking’ the police with jobs that were better filled by social workers. The need for structural reform was not considered.
McBride held the opposing position, that structural reform was crucial. “It isn’t that the system is broken; the system is functioning exactly as it is designed to function. This is about keeping black and brown people oppressed.” Noting her own family relationship to the police, she focused on the irony of police objecting to restructuring, “cops who are against defunding the police are purely selfish, they are saying that holding on to their own jobs is more important than the very principles that they have sworn to uphold.”
While Eriksson offered that he was consulting with other governmental officials via his position as Vice President of the California Independent Cities Association, and said, “I’m available to meeting with anyone; my door is open, I’m happy to listen.”
McBride offered the names of some Culver City residents with stellar credentials on racial issues, including Kelly Lytle Hernandez, a recent MacArthur grant recipient and Director of the Ralph Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA. She urged Eriksson to reach out rather than wait.
While 96 people were registered for the chamber call, 347 people clicked in to the Ad Hoc Equity subcommittee meeting.
The online meeting of June 19 was also at 7 pm, sponsored by Culver City’s Ad Hoc Equity Sub-Committee, and was led by council members Daniel Lee and Meghan Sahli-Wells. Entitled “Individual, Institutional and Structural Racism: Policing” it was also structured to take questions from the callers, and answer with information. Rather than take on the national debate, this meeting was very focused on the CCPD, and what solutions could be implemented as quickly as possible.
The call opened with a brief history of Juneteenth by Cicely Bingener, a member of the General Plan Update Committee. Juneteenth, the celebration of the news of liberation in Texas on June 19, 1865, has been celebrated in communities as an end to American slavery. With the discussion, very specific questions on the Culver City Police Budget came up from people, many of whom were only recently aware of what a large slice of funding (38% of the municipal budget) the CCPD gets.
Council member Lee, who holds a Masters in Social Work and is currently completing his doctorate, noted that preventing problems was always preferable to solving them. “Our reliance on police to address situations that they are not trained [to handle] is just one aspect of the crisis.”
As an ad hoc sub-committee, some parts of the discussion were curtailed in respect of the Brown Act, the California law that prevents elected officials from discussing agenda items in non-official venues.
The council meeting tonight will be the first step forward in shaping changes for the police department. If the proposed budget cuts are approved, further conversations on change both financial and systemic are expected.