Funding Our Lives for Public Safety
West Side Community Organization believes public safety means affirming lives – not taking them. To affirm lives – especially those of Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities (BIPOC) most affected by racism, economic injustice, and police violence – our city must redirect resources from the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) to increase funding for accessible, safe, affordable, and public housing; community services; public education; healthcare; jobs; and other programs that enable us to be well, make ends meet, and create a vibrant community.
Despite the best efforts of reform advocates, the institution of policing remains rooted in white supremacy and racism. Police continue to target, detain, and kill BIPOC community members, making it clear that police reform is ineffective. Therefore, the West Side Community Organization (WSCO) Board of Directors believes that we can only achieve public safety by investing in the programs and systems that affirm our lives while divesting from SPPD. Divestment is not immediate abolition. It’s long-term, well-thought-out, systematic planning to implement public safety strategies developed by and for the community.
Right now, we’re pouring millions into an institution that’s undermining our safety. Year after year, SPPD’s leadership and union exert immense pressure on elected officials and in our communities to ensure they get a giant, out-sized portion of the budget. Take the City of Saint Paul’s 2020 budget, for example. The total budget is approximately $715 million. Of that, $126 million – or nearly 18 percent – goes to SPPD. Between 2015 and 2020, SPPD’s budget ballooned by $23 million – while funding for other community programs increased only marginally each year.
For decades, at all levels of government, people with power have exploited racialized fears about crime to divide us and divert funding from the community programs that keep us safe to police departments that threaten the lives of BIPOC community members. Instead of funding programs that create wealth and wellbeing in BIPOC communities, people with power continue to prioritize investments in sports stadiums, luxury development, and corporate tax breaks over programs that enable working people to build wealth and achieve their dreams.
These choices have consequences, and racist policies like redlining and racial covenants ensure BIPOC communities contend with the most challenging ones – from under-resourced public schools, chronic health issues, and economic distress, to homelessness and mental health crises. Rather than addressing the root cause of these issues, elected leaders deploy police officers who are not adequately trained nor emotionally equipped to provide the care-based, life-affirming crisis response our communities need.
We can and must do better.
Rather than neglecting and criminalizing emergency mental health situations, homelessness, and other non-violent crises, it’s time to create infrastructure for prevention, community care, and situation-specific crisis response. Let’s invest in social workers, medics, youth mentors, crisis counselors, and other solutions that foster safety and wellbeing instead of violence and harm.
At the same time, we must address the root causes of challenges that face our communities. By diverting funding from SPPD, we can invest in life-affirming programs that enable us to make ends meet and create a vibrant community. We know mental, physical, and economic wellbeing are fundamental to safety in our communities.
As we grapple with the murders of George Floyd and too many other Black, brown, and Indigienous people at the hands of the police, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has wrought the most harm in BIPOC communities, we must reckon with the fact that white supremacy, racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination threaten lives. WSCO is committed to racial justice and life-affirming public safety. We’re determined to use our resources and relationships to reach out to neighbors and develop solutions of, by, and for the community. We’re capable of sharing concerns and creating solutions together.
For decades, WSCO has been a trusted messenger in the community, including regarding issues of safety and policing. In 2007, we hosted community forums on the "Cradle to Prison Pipeline" and a legislative report card grading the racial impacts of policies. We have hosted several community forums since then, where we have discussed police reform, and re-imagined public safety in ways that are rooted in the community. Going forward, WSCO will create more spaces to envision public safety strategies that affirm our lives, our families, our communities, and our dreams.
We ask you all, the community, how should we invest our resources to affirm the lives of West Siders and the City of Saint Paul as a whole?
Interested in getting involved with WSCO and your neighbors to envision life-affirming public safety? Reach out to us at [email protected] or 651-293-1708
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