Last Tuesday night, CMPD made a grave error.
The military-style attack on protesters, who were seen peacefully marching seconds earlier, left citizens surrounded by gas in center city, forcing them to rip off a grate to escape to a parking deck. Meanwhile they were being shot by pepper balls from above. It was a trauma-inducing abuse of power.
CMPD’s fundamental error, though, was gassing Queen City Nerve livestreamer Justin LaFrancois, a dry-witted, young white male journalist who many of you could see yourselves having a beer with. He looks different than the front-line protesters who reported abuse in 2016, in the protests that followed the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. Back then, those complaining were primarily Black and brown and transgender organizers, beloved by advocates, but less credible/worthy to broader Charlotte.
In a single video from LaFrancois, many white eyes saw the violence Black eyes have seen since slave patrols were created as our community’s first police force. In a world marching against police brutality, Charlotte’s police officers — and those in Atlanta, Buffalo, and other places — responded this week with … more brutality.
Yet, when people hear “defund” and “reallocate” police funding, the Pavlovian response is “What about crime?” Understand much of our “crime” is tied to drugs, an issue you and your families come to people like me, not the police, to address.
Cities such as Philadelphia and Los Angeles are already exploring ways to redirect funds, with L.A.’s mayor stating goals to invest in “jobs, health, education, and healing.” And late Sunday afternoon, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council voted to dismantle the police department and create a new system of public safety.
Tonight, Charlotte’s city council is scheduled to vote on and adopt a $718.8 million operating budget for 2021. Of that, $290.2 million — or 40.4 percent — is marked to go to CMPD, an entity the council lacks direct financial oversight of.
On a pie chart of the budget, the large blue chunk is striking. But even more so is the percentage that’s allocated for items like housing and neighborhood services (2.8 percent) and economic development (0.9 percent).
This from a city that has spent the past six years preaching about attacking our lack of economic mobility and discussing our affordable housing crisis.
This budget is tantamount to me leaving my children underhoused, under-clothed, and underfed while devoting money for a golden timeout chair or platinum spanking belt.
Most of us would call that neglect and abuse.
And while we have spurts of donations from corporations and citizens attempting to fill gaps, we lack a sustainable public commitment to funding solutions to root causes. We continually underfund housing, economic development, mental health support, transportation, re-entry for folks released from jail, and many other things that would help those who’ve been unseen become empowered to live into their potential. We then shake our head at rising “crime” statistics, most of which are linked to these issues. It’s gaslighting.
Alcoholics Anonymous has an acronym for folks attempting to navigate sobriety: H.A.L.T. Don’t let yourself get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. The AA Big Book describes alcohol as “merely a symptom.” Through the 12 steps, members do a thorough moral inventory, own and atone for previous harms, and carry the message to others. In the process they transition from feeling restless, irritable, and discontented to living happy, joyous, and free.
Since Charlotte’s inception, Black citizens have experienced various terror and trauma. From slavery to slave patrols; Black Codes; Jim Crow and the lynching of Joe McNeely on the grounds of what’s now Bank of America Stadium; segregation to create Charlotte’s crescent and wedge; urban renewal that displaced Black families from Brooklyn because of future land value; mass incarceration from the war on drugs (unlike the humanity and decriminalization in today’s primarily white opioid epidemic) in the 1980s; today’s gentrification/displacement; being profiled on Nextdoor; and ongoing police brutality that reduces murdered black people to hashtags who experience character assassination after death.
We. Can’t. Breathe.
The proposed 2021 budget, which is up for a vote from city council tonight, will continue to leave many of our most traumatized citizens, those who’ve lived here the longest: Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired.
Imagine if Charlotte — where repeated policy decisions have left many of its long-term Black citizens hungry, angry, lonely, and tired — followed AA’s model? Imagine if we recognized crime was merely a symptom? Imagine if we stopped asking what’s wrong with that person and asked what happened to that person? Imagine.
Imagine if Charlotte found the political will to create a budget displaying the holistic “we can’t arrest our way out of it,” approach, addressing root causes like we do with other issues in this country, including alcohol and opioids, while treating all Charlotteans as worthy human beings? Imagine if Charlotte took one of our dozen moral inventories/taskforce reports, made amends with restorative actions and resource allocation, and carried the prosperity of the community to our fellow citizens? Could our city become happy, joyous, and free?
Justin Perry is a therapist and partner with Clt4blkfutures, a coalition who keeps Black people safe so we can thrive.