Community and labor groups are taking aim at Chicago’s municipal budget, demanding that the city defund the police by 75% and invest in neighborhoods instead.
Activists rallied outside City Hall Tuesday demanding that Chicago shift more than $1 billion away from the Police Department and steer it towards education, health care and social services.
Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Collaborative, one of the groups in the coalition, said Tuesday’s event — titled “Black to the Future” — was a kickoff to their campaign around Chicago’s budget talks this fall.
At a press conference in front of City Hall, the activists stacked rows of large boxes painted in green to symbolize the $1.8 billion dollars Chicago spends on its police. Next to those, they laid out a few small boxes to represent funds for homelessness, domestic violence and other issues.
The goal was to “make very clear the city’s current priorities,” Patel told WBEZ after the event. “Though elected officials like to say, ‘There is no other option, this is the only thing that we can do, we’re so sorry,’ we know the tough choices actually are about defunding the police, stopping corporate welfare, stopping the subsidized developments like Lincoln Yards.”
In all, the city is providing $1.6 billion in tax subsidies for two megadevelopments: Lincoln Yards, on the North Side; and The 78, near Chinatown.
In contrast, Patel said, the city has failed to provide adequate resources for social services in some neighborhoods and “getting to the root causes of violence in our city.”
Instead, she continued, the city continues “to try to address the violence through solutions that don’t work, that actually lead to more violence and more brutality, which is what policing in the city has done.”
Patel also described as “inadequate” one of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s signature programs, INVEST South/West, which calls for $750 million in city investments for 10 neighborhoods on the city’s South and West sides.
The program merely “repackages investments that the city had already made,” Patel said. “It’s sort of the playbook that [former Mayor] Rahm [Emmanuel] would do, which is to repackage things that were approved to say, ‘Oh, look what we’re doing here.’ ”
Patel said the “few hundred million new dollars” Lightfoot has added for INVEST South/West are “nowhere near enough,” especially compared to the billions invested in policing and building megadevelopments near downtown.In addition to the press conference, the activists staged a caravan of cars in front of City Hall, displaying signs that read “Abolish Police” and “End Corporate Welfare.”
Activists also created signs and displays pointing out that Jeffrey Hecktman, CEO of Hilco Global, was a director on the board of the Chicago Police Foundation, which raises corporate funds for the police. Hilco Global is the company that, with the city’s approval, demolished the old Crawford Coal smokestack in Little Village on April 11, which produced a massive dust cloud in that neighborhood during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Let’s talk about environmental racism,” said Destiny Harris, of the activist group Dissenters, during Tuesday’s press conference. “Let’s talk about the fact that in the middle of a pandemic that affects the respiratory system, you knock down a plant that releases thousands of particles of particulate matter into the air in a community that is predominantly brown.”
Patel said the recent protests against police violence and brutality “have really opened up the door to be much clearer and bolder about our demands” with regard to the city’s budget.
The Chicago City Council will decide on the city’s next budget this fall. Patel said activists and community organizers are up to the challenge of getting the votes needed to defund the police.
“What we need to do is just continue to organize, continue to reach out to residents in the city, to talk about those choices, [and] for more and more people to demand that elected officials make the right choices themselves and support defunding the police,” Patel said.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.