SOUTH GATE — Residents organized a protest outside City Hall during a special budget meeting July 21, presenting demands to city officials to decrease the police budget for the upcoming fiscal year and allocate the leftover money to other community services.
A coalition of residents called People of South Gate organized the protest and presented six demands during a special meeting, presided over by a budget subcommittee of the vice mayor, another City Council member, the city treasurer, the city clerk, the director of administrative services and another department deputy. The meeting was held on Zoom.
The demands include a 50% reduction in the proposed police budget of around $31.4 million for fiscal year 2020-21; a freeze on new department hires, a 10% salary cut for the 10 highest paid police officials, including the police chief; a freeze on all department salary increases; a halt on the purchase of an encrypted police scanner; and overtime regulations for officers.
The demands are inspired by Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles’ People’s Budget, which surveyed almost 25,000 Angelenos who wanted the Los Angeles Police Department budget reinvested in priorities like housing security, mental health, public health and public transportation.
Similar calls to defund police have occurred all over the country in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and other members of the Black community by police.
South Gate Police Chief Randy Davis said that the full $31.4 million budget is needed to fund services, community outreach programs and officer overtime. He also shared during the special meeting that the city’s police budget is not as large as those of neighboring cities.
The South Gate municipal budget proposal totals almost $55 million in general fund spending for a population of 96,401. The proposed budget allocates 57% of the general fund to the police department, 17% to parks and recreation, 9% to public works and 7% to community development.
South Gate residents expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed budget after city officials presented it in June. That prompted the city’s budget subcommittee to schedule a special meeting July 21 for community members to give public comment.
Those who were unhappy include People of South Gate, a recently created coalition that arose in solidarity to national movements calling for the defunding of police and an increase in police accountability. The movements inspired the group to look into their own city’s finances.
“I participated in the Black Lives Matter protests and felt very passionate about supporting that movement,” said coalition member Veronica Hernandez. “So when we looked into what our city was doing, we said, ‘OK, we’re out there supporting other groups, but we’re not organized in our own city, where we actually have a loud voice that we need to organize now.’”
The coalition mobilized residents through canvassing, rallies and social media campaigns, informing peopleabout the proposed budget, what defunding the police means and how people can become more civically engaged.
“We learned that organizing in South Gate wasn’t happening and so we took it upon ourselves to collaborate and create systems for change within South Gate and empower residents,” said Amanda Tapia, another coalition member.
The evening before the meeting, the coalition hosted a town hall and presented its findings to the community. Members shared the results of a survey they conducted which showed that more than 90% of the 782 residents who responded wanted to “defund” the police and allocate the money to community development such as education, mental health services and youth programming.
City Council members were invited to take part in the town hall but did not attend.
During the protest, two street vendors handed out free snow cones and churros to community members who attended. They also had a sign language interpreter and educational resources. They gathered outside City Hall, shared testimonies and chanted in unison.
The People of South Gate coalition also set up a table with scripts that attendees could use to call in to the virtual council meeting.
At the meeting, Chief Davis gave a presentation on the South Gate Police Department’s programs and expenses, justifying the money allocated to the police department by sharing the different expenses the department has. He emphasized the need to fund community outreach programs and officer overtime with his proposed budget.
Davis also responded to criticism towards police department by saying that South Gate allocated less money to its police department than neighboring cities do.
“I don’t bring that up relative to any request for additional officers, nor additional funding, nor [an] additional hourly rate for our officers, but I just wanted to provide a perspective,” he said.
Public comments submitted at the meeting went back and forth between people who supported the police and those who wanted it defunded. Some speakers opposed to the defund movement said the SGPD does not have some of the police brutality issues other departments do.
The consensus among the subcommittee was that more needed to be done to fund mental health services and tech resources for students’ distance learning, but did not specify where that money would come from.
The budget subcommittee is expected to come back with an amended budget in October.
By Ashley Orona