Social Issues: Activists, Demonstrators Call for Further PPD Cuts

West Philadelphia resident Ryan Davis speaks to the assembled crowd at a demonstration calling for cuts to the Philadelphia Police Department’s budget on June 10th, 2020. (Miles Wall/PN)

Community activists and others gathered at City Hall on June 10 for a demonstration demanding funding cuts to the Philadelphia Police Department, joining dozens of similar municipal calls-to-action since the nation erupted in protest two weeks ago over the killing of George Floyd.

About 50 people attended the event, Community Testimony on Policing: Defund and Dismantle the PPD, in front of a statue commemorating 19th-century civil rights advocate Octavius Catto.

The event was hosted by the Amistad Law Project, a West Philadelphia organization that advocates for prison and police reform and provides affordable legal representation to city residents. Demonstrators were invited to speak on their own views of, and experiences with, the police.

Ryan Davis, a West Philadelphia resident who volunteered to speak, said he believed change had to be broader than demands to defund the police.

“There’s a lot more to it than just defunding the police,” Davis said. “We vote in our elected officials. We vote in our district attorneys. What do we ask of them? I’m not here to pay your salary if you don’t produce justice.”

“Defund the police” has become a popular refrain in protests across the country. In Philadelphia, protesters’ ire had focused on a planned $19 million increase over the previous fiscal year for the Philadelphia Police Department in Mayor Jim Kenney’s revised budget, which prescribed steep cuts to other city services.

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A demonstrator at the event places a protest sign in the hands of a statue of 19th-century Philadelphia civil rights activist and freedman Octavius Catto. (Miles Wall/PN)

After weeks of public outcry, Kenney announced on June 9 that the city budget would be revised again to eliminate the proposed increase. However, many organizers at the event called for further cuts to the police department.

“Yes, we’re very happy to see that common sense has reigned,” said Nicolas O’Rourke, an activist and former candidate for city council who co-hosted the event. “Increasing the police budget while everybody else’s is being decreased is ridiculous. But what we also want is actually a cut.”

O’Rourke said a coalition of organizations including Working Families Party, which endorsed his and Kendra Brooks’ 2019 campaigns and later hired him as its organizing director for Philadelphia, wanted a cut of $120 million – the amount the police department’s budget has increased since Kenney’s tenure began in 2016.

“What that looks like is something we all have to continue to discuss over time,” O’Rourke added. “We got folks in the movement who are looking at the budget and saying, ‘OK, we can save this amount of money if we cut this thing from the PPD, right?’ That stuff is currently happening.”

Rick Krajewski, a candidate in the yet-uncalled race to represent parts of West Philadelphia in Pennsylvania’s 188th District, also made an appearance at the event. Krajewski described defunding the PPD as “necessary.”

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Rick Krajewski, progressive activist and candidate for West Philadelphia’s 188th district in the state House, speaks to the crowd (Miles Wall/PN)

“They zeroed out the art and culture budget,” Krajewski said. “They already cut the school budget. We have schools that are dealing with lead and asbestos!

Krajewski, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform, connected the quality of civic services to crime in the city.

“It’s need-based, and we are not satisfying their needs,” Krajewski said. “And so where’s that money gonna come from? It needs to come from the police.”

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