Defunding The Police Has Traction In Dallas, But What's On The Table? | KERA News

Defunding The Police Has Traction In Dallas, But What's On The Table?

Jul 2, 2020

Calls to defund the police may have started in the streets, but the outcries of protesters seeking an end to police brutality have made it to Dallas City Hall — and the city's leaders are listening.

"Let's go through the budget with a fine-tooth comb," Dallas City Council Member Casey Thomas said. "Let's look at where we're allocating funds to Public Safety that we can reallocate to address the root causes of poverty in Black and Brown communities."

So, what's on the table? Both activists and members of the Dallas City Council are weighing in on ways they'd like to consider using the Dallas Police Department's $514 million budget.

The Citizen Outcry

Since the killing of George Floyd, there have been a lot Dallasites wanting to speak at the City Council's virtual meetings. Many have the same idea.

"I'm calling to demand the city reevaluate, divest and defund the DPD," Kellie Barrett said via the city's not-so-well-received video conferencing platform.

"We refuse to fund the murder, incarceration, detention and deportation of our brothers, sons and fathers any longer," Jennifer Cortez said.

"We cannot keep funding a police department that has been proven ineffective and insufficient," Jennifer Ybarra said.

Those three women are just a few of the dozens and dozens of voices that have spoken out during council meetings over the past 30 days.

Their statements were made during the public comment period of a council meeting on June 17 about the city's budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Activist Mercedes Fulbright has said the city council should be reducing the size of the Dallas Police Department's budget every year.

"The budget should be built around the people, the communities and the things that they actually need to keep themselves safe."

Activist Mercedes Fulbright wants to defund the Dallas Police Department. She's an organizer for the local chapter of BYP100. And believes the city's budget needs to be redrafted with social services receiving the bulk of the money.
Credit Hady Mawajdeh / KERA News

Fulbright has been organizing in Dallas for years. She's a leader in the local chapter of a group called BYP100. They're a member-based organization of Black 18- to 35-year-olds that are "dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people."

The local chapter organized a week-long plan of action after Floyd's death in May, which included a vigil at Freedman's Memorial Cemetery that garnered a crowd of 2,000 within less than 24 hours, she said.

Fulbright said BYP100's main area of focus is defunding Dallas police to "a point of no existence." They're attempting to reach their goal through community organizing.

The group is part of a coalition called In Defense of Black Lives. It has an online petition with 22,000 signatures, she said, calling on Dallas leaders to "end the war on Black people, depopulate jails and prisons, and to divest from DPD."

"I can't believe they're still paying for tactical gear or tear gas or those rubber bullets that they used against us in the streets," Fulbright said. "Like, that could have gone to the kids who are at home right now who don't have food in their pantries. Right?"

Fulbright wants the city's next budget to spend less on policing and more things like education, medical care and housing.

The Response From City Leadership
A "Black Lives Matter" ground mural faces off with the Dallas City Hall building.
Credit Keren Carrion / KERA News

The new budget for the City of Dallas is supposed to go into effect in October. The city council will get a peak at a draft of the budget in August. But last month, 10 of the city's 14 council members sent a memo to City Manager T.C. Broadnax, requesting he draft a budget that shifts money allocated for the DPD to departments providing social services.

Mayor Eric Johnson seemed open to moving some money around, too.

"That's a conversation that I'm not only willing to have, but fully expected to have," he told local FOX affiliate KDFW. "That's what we do around the horseshoe every year, we talk about the budget."

But, he also said he's not "at all" in favor of getting rid of the Dallas Police Department. A sentiment echoed by Council Member Chad West.

"Frankly, I find it a little disingenuous for folks to say, 'We don't need to have as many police officers,'" said the council member from North Oak Cliff. "You got to look at what we did during the last budget cycle, which was supported unanimously by council, and that is to increase the public safety budget to provide salaries starting at $60,000 and use that to draw in more officers."

West said it's time to step back, not get swept up by the moment and look at realistic cuts.

North Dallas Council Member Lee Kleinman doesn't want to see the city's police force shrink either, but he thinks the Dallas Police Academy is one big place for cuts.

"I would propose that we don't even have an academy," he said. The move could save the city $24 million.

Kleinman said police unions have always claimed Dallas needs an academy to train cadets "the Dallas way." He argues that's not working. Instead, he believes recruits could be trained through existing law enforcement programs at Eastfield College or Tarrant County College.

"Those are professional academic institutions that are accredited with instructors," Kleinman said. "So now, you don't get that bias that's built into our system, institutionalized from the first year that they come on."

He has other ideas too, like ditching the department's Mounted Unit that rides on horseback.

"We need to listen to what people in the city of Dallas are saying," said Thomas, who represents Southwest Dallas. "We need to listen to this worldwide cry and call for changes to police policy."

Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrate in front of Dallas City Hall on June 17, 2020.
Credit Keren Carrion / KERA News

Thomas points out that in some Dallas neighborhoods, people don't feel safe with police around. He thinks now is the time to reimagine public safety. For example, he wants to vastly expand the city's RIGHT Care program, which sends a police officer, a paramedic and a behavioral health specialist from Parkland Hospital to calls involving mental health emergencies.

"The medical professional is trained in knowing how to deal with the mental health episode and can provide ways to deescalate that situation," he said.

Thomas also wants to put more money into programs that can provide professional development to those without jobs, and he thinks the city ought to grant more power to the Community Police Oversight Board.

But BYP100's Mercedes Fulbright said police unions in Dallas are too strong for an oversight board to have any real impact.

"It's not preventing the violence and terror and murder and kidnappings that are happening from that institution," she said. "That's where we're at. We're like, 'Y'all, this isn't working,' and we got to stop lying and gaslighting our people on this thought that we can make it better."

For now, while the city's budget is still being discussed, many in the council want protesters and activists to review the current budget, to find items they want eliminated and then to push for that. Because, they've said, screaming to "defund the police" won't do enough to make a real change.

Got a tip? Email Hady Mawajdeh at hmawajdeh@KERA.org. You can follow Hady on Twitter @hadysauce.

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