An Opportunity To Lead

Late Monday night, the Durham City Council voted unanimously to approve a budget for FY 2020-21.

Budget talks can be contentious, but this one may have been even more so, given overwhelming concern from the community about an increase in funding for the Durham Police Department (DPD).

According to the budget, DPD will receive a five percent increase from last year, totaling $70,363,362. The City Council recently approved the addition of six officers “in order to backfill positions that were moved to the Gang unit.” The department requested seven more officers to comprise a second gang unit. Gang units have proven to be ineffective and can lead to an increase in crime.

The following is my message to the Durham City Council. Please take a moment to read.

Mayor Schewel and Council Members,

I am writing to you as a born and raised Durham citizen. I had several concerns with the council meeting and passing of the FY 2020-21 budget on Monday evening.

First, I believe that my fellow constituents should have been given longer than one minute to provide his or her comments on this incredibly important item during the meeting. Meanwhile, members of the Council were given a virtually unlimited amount of time to discuss the topic. I understand you cannot give an unlimited amount of time to everyone or it would have been a 10-hour long meeting. However, I believe the allotted time for both the public and members of the Council should have been equitable.

Second, I am incredibly disappointed that council members apparently ignored thousands of emails and numerous public comments sent on this issue, including mine. Instead, the Council voted unanimously to pass a budget that provides a 5% increase to the police department while also not allocating near enough for many other important areas of our community. And, let me be frank, the $1 million “down payment” for policing alternatives is not nearly enough.

There is no reason for a police department’s budget to take up a hefty sum of a city’s general fund as in Durham. Particularly at a time when we are dealing with a global pandemic (with cases on the rise in North Carolina), an affordable and livable housing crisis, and a horrid teacher compensation rate. So much so, that many teachers have to purchase supplies out of pocket. Or have students who cannot pay his or her own way (nor the school have scholarship funds) for educational trips. I am friends with several local teachers who struggle with this each school year.

This is not okay.

I voted for many of you on the current Council as well as Mayor Schewel. However, I will keep this at the forefront of my decision making at the ballot box moving forward. I do not understand the thought process of some council members saying they support a version of “defunding” or “reforming” the police while simultaneously voting in the affirmative to pass a budget that increases funding for the police.

I do understand that change cannot happen overnight. However, I also believe the Council could have and should have done more. The opportunity was there but the Council failed, in my opinion. May I remind you all the vision set forth by the Council: “Durham is the leading city in providing an excellent and sustainable quality of life.”

What I witnessed on Monday evening was not representative of that, in my opinion. This is not a pipe dream nor a bumper sticker issue. I am hopeful that the Council will take constituents’ concerns to heart and work to do better.

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