This is a time of grave crisis for our city and our people. Children are being killed in the streets where they play and infants are shot in their homes while police guard Trump Tower and the Christopher Columbus statue. Without work, renters are hopelessly behind on their rent and fighting off illegal evictions. Over 5,000 Chicagoans, the overwhelming majority of them Black and Latinx, have died from COVID, leaving their families with unspeakable loss and staggering medical debt. Food pantry use has more than doubled this year as unemployed parents struggle to pay for food for their families.
Our people are suffering–but we have a chance to alleviate this pain in the 2021 city budget. This will be difficult, given President Trump’s disastrous termination of federal relief efforts. But it is not impossible. In Chicago, City Council has the power to defund the police, to generate progressive revenue, and to invest in the relief and recovery measures that our communities need.
To paraphrase Daniel Burnham, this is no time for small plans. Together with a broad set of organizers and activists who have been demanding rental relief at the onset of the pandemic, an end to police violence, and fair contracts for essential workers, we know that we need big plans on the table. This means:
Defund CPD. We support the campaign to defund the Chicago Police Department–a racist, violent institution that is hostile to reform and holds too much power over our communities–and to invest instead in community resources like quality, well-funded public schools, mental health centers, the Good Kids Mad City Peace Book program, and housing. An easy first step would be to eliminate all 847 vacant positions currently provided for in the CPD budget.
Treatment not Trauma: Create and invest in a public city-wide 24 hour Crisis Response and Care System that would send trained social workers–not armed police officers–to respond to people having a mental health crisis.
Progressive revenue: We reject any attempt to raise revenue through regressive measures and fees like a property tax hike, ticketing and towing, or garbage fees. Options the city can enact without state approval include a vacancy fee on super-rich developers, a real estate transfer tax on high-value property, and the early closure of wealthy TIF districts.
Protect Workers: No furloughs or layoffs applied to any essential workers who have provided care and resources to our communities during the pandemic. The city must protect the predominantly Black and brown public sector workers who have served our city during this pandemic.
Budgets are about priorities and choices. City Council must not ask Black and brown people to pay for a police force that has repeatedly brutalized and incarcerated them while their children go to schools that are underfunded and don’t have enough resources for counseling and on-site nurses. We must not ask poor and working people to pay more for the gas they need to work for exploitative employers in the so-called gig economy and rideshare business. We must not ask the Streets and Sanitation workers who are exposed daily to waste from COVID-infected homes to accept layoffs, furloughs, or cuts to their healthcare.
Instead, this budget is an opportunity to defund the police, to tax the rich, and to turn the tremendous wealth of this city’s wealthiest few into the robust relief and recovery efforts that our people need. Now more than ever we need Chicago to be a city that cares for its people–and particularly its long-neglected Black, brown, and poor and working people–and it has never been more important that we get this right.
Damon Williams is a member of the #DefundCPD campaign and the #LetUsBreathe Collective. India Jackson is a member of GoodKids MadCity.