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‘A slap in the face’ local rights groups, protesters react to small police budget cut

Posted at 8:49 PM, Jun 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-17 22:49:18-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Following weeks of protests for equality and police defunding and reform, local rights groups are speaking out after the Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously for a new fiscal budget featuring a ‘small’ budget cut to police.

Despite concerns and comments from dozens of upset citizens, the Salt Lake City Council unanimously approved a new $326-million budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year Tuesday night, including a notable $5.3-million cut from the Salt Lake City Police Department.

The decision comes after weeks of protests in the beehive state, demanding equal rights, and police reform and defunding. Now, many of the groups behind those protests say they are not happy and the council isn’t listening.

“The police need to be defunded to a very, very large degree, if not entirely,” said Moira Turner, an organizer with the Salt Lake Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL).

Rights groups, including PSL, Salt Lake Equal Rights Movement (SLERM) and Black Lives Matter (BLM), have spearheaded a number of protests in recent weeks.

The demands from PSL, in particular, have been three-fold. Including defunding the department, reopening certain cases and releasing all protesters who have been arrested during the demonstrations.

However, each group has presented demands to defund SLCPD’s $80-million-plus budget, by at least $30-million.

“The police need to be defunded now,” said Francisco Meza, a core organizer with SLERM.

New numbers show policing largely dominates city budgets across the state, SLCPD is no exception.

“The funds allotted to SLCPD need to be reassigned towards education, housing, healthcare and the reparations for black America,” Turner said.

In a Tuesday morning interview with FOX 13, SLCPD Chief Mike Brown said the request to cut $30-million or completely defund the police was a “knee jerk reaction.”

“I really think we should sit down and talk about what we need to do and what our options are,” Brown continued. “[SLCPD] are very forward-leaning, so right now is a time for us to listen, to learn, and then to act to perpetuate this kind of change.”

Despite calls for mass defunding, City Council toyed with the idea of increasing the police budget by 2-million-dollars, before ultimately deciding to go in the opposite direction.

“We have racism built into our very own systems, it’s pervasive and it needs to change,” said Salt Lake City Council Chair Chris Wharton.

But, instead of slashing the police budget and reallocating funds to other services, as protesters had hoped, the council put a 5-point-3 million dollar dent in it.

“It’s crumbs, we think this budget is a minuscule concession meant to placate the justified anger of the people,” Turner said. “I think that people who have been out in the streets, by and large, are not going to be happy at all.”

Meza had a similar reaction.

“I definitely feel like it’s not enough because when there’s a budget that could even reach 80-million, then 30-million of that should be reallocated,” Meza said. “5-million itself, simply isn’t enough, because the rest of the money can still be used for riot gear, for their own internal investigations, things that could be handled differently.”

City Council said the funds from the $5.3-million cut would be reallocated. $2.8-million is to be put into a hold which will eventually be used to reevaluate the police’s role in the city. The remaining $2.5-million will be placed into a social worker program.

“We don’t want all of that money just taken out and put in a reserve, we want that money to be strictly reallocated,” Turner said.

“It really does feel like a slap in the face, they’re like, ‘here you go! We are fixing the problem,’ but you know it’s nothing,” she continued.

Prior to the vote, the council acknowledged some may be unhappy with their choices.

“A lot of you are still going to be angry about this proposal if it is passed, we understand that but we hope you will continue to dialogue with us,” Wharton said.

Now, rights groups like SLERM and PSL have acknowledged there is more work to be done.

“Everyone needs to keep fighting, we have to keep the movement growing in the streets and keep pushing for more change,” said Turner.

“We don’t want people thinking that this is the end that we’re going to be fine with just that, we want people to know that there is bigger things that need to be done,” Meza said. “[The council] need to make bigger decisions in terms of defunding the police… Their little actions and step-by-step things aren’t going to make people back off.”

Following the motion to approve the budget, another motion was made for the council to follow up in September with the soon-to-be-formed city commission on racial equity and policing.