The national uprising for racial justice has shown no signs of slowing, and protesters’ demands to defund the police and reinvest in Black communities have gained political traction in cities from Minneapolis to New York to Los Angeles. In the streets and online, people are collectively reimagining a racially just society — one in which our public dollars fund the goods and services required to build safe, healthy communities. To get there, we need to reexamine our budgets.

Over the past 30 years, police budgets have ballooned spectacularly. Today, state and local governments spend over $115 billion on policing. Local governments across the country are going into debt to pay for police misconduct settlements and judgments — externalizing these costs onto taxpayers while banks and investors profit. The U.S. now spends twice as much on police, prisons, and the court system as we do on food stamps, supplemental social security payments, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. In Birmingham, Alabama, this year’s $92 million police budget is 1,800 times larger than the city’s $50,000 budget for social services. The result? Black communities are being squeezed between a lack of social services and an increasingly militarized police force.

Black community leaders have long called for public reinvestment in the social services and programs that make communities healthy. For decades, policymakers have maintained that this funding does not exist. Now, protesters have made it clear that it’s never been a question of funding but of priorities.

Take public transit, the community infrastructure that connects people to jobs, food, and hospitals. Black and Brown people — who are most likely to be low-wage and essential workers — rely on public transit the most. Yet, transit planning and development often prioritizes affluent, white-collar workers instead of making sure that already transit-dependent communities can access jobs, education, and essential services. At the same time, over-policing on transit systems has led to the targeting of people of color for minor infractions while transit-oriented development without affordable housing has spurred gentrification and displacement.

Public transit provides many benefits — a cleaner environment, mobility, and jobs creation. However, these benefits are not distributed equitably, making transit a critical arena in the fight for racial justice. Instead of spending our public dollars on over-policing our transit systems and cities, we could invest in transit equity to improve the air quality in Black neighborhoods that are at higher risk of air pollution and related health issues. Public transit can also create living wage manufacturing jobs for Black workers. Creating good jobs in Black communities is critical to recovering from COVID-19, as Black workers lost more jobs and have been slower to regain them in the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Using economic modeling developed by the Political Economy Research Institute, our research indicates that diverting funds from police departments toward building clean transit systems in Black neighborhoods could create thousands of good, family-sustaining transit careers for Black workers. In New York City, where advocates are calling for a $1 billion cut to the NYPD’s budget, we found that the same amount invested in buying electric buses for the MTA could support up to 5,700 good jobs. From 2010 to 2017, Chicago spent more than $709 million on police settlements and judgments. If that money was invested solely in electric buses, CTA could have supported up to 4,043 manufacturing jobs. Instead of spending $797 million on policing transit, Los Angeles Metro could support at least 1,334 jobs. What’s more, L.A. Metro could finance nearly the entire cost of its mandated transition to 100 percent electric buses with the agency’s current policing budget—and could support thousands of good jobs in the process. The federal government also pours millions of public dollars into local police departments. This year, federal lawmakers will invest $400 million in a policing program. If the government invested in electric buses instead, that $400 million could support up to 2,280 manufacturing jobs and contribute to cleaner, climate-safe neighborhoods.

Transit is just one piece of the puzzle. As the national uprising for Black lives has made clear, we need a systematic approach to divesting from police departments and reinvesting in Black communities — one that defers to community leadership. With several victories afoot, #DefundThePolice has become far more than a hashtag or a slogan: It’s the rallying cry of a movement that wants to see racial justice in its lifetime.


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Benjamin Block (not verified)August 5, 2020 - 05:37I love yall vision! I know how we can change the world! Just believe in me and I will believe in everybody else!!
August 5, 2020 - 05:37