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Editor’s Note: This was put together by multiple staff members of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and is part of an ongoing series of statements, media, policy changes, and actions our organization is taking.

Image: WIkimedia Commons

Philadelphia needs to reassess how it spends its revenue with regard to its revised austerity budget. While many services are being cut due to COVID-19, the Philadelphia Police Department is proposed to receive a $14 million increase from the proposed FY21 budget, which will translate into a $19 million increase over its FY2020 budget.

As advocates for safer streets, we believe this is wrong and there is a better way to spend that money.

The Philadelphia Police Department’s 6,300 police officers received a 2.5-percent pay increase starting May 1, followed by a $750 signing bonus on July 1, as noted by a Philadelphia Citizen article earlier this year. A smaller group of deputies in the Sheriff’s Office represented by the FOP will see a smaller bump, with 2.25% pay increase and $400 bonus.

All in all, the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) operating budget was set to increase by $14 million while many other services were being slashed, including homeless services, streets, and arts.

Many of the programs and services Philadelphians rely on to go about their daily lives will be cut, and the city will be worse for it.

Even more stark, as reported by WHYY and Billy Penn on Thursday, June 4, the City is proposing an 18 percent funding cut for the Police Advisory Commission, its main civilian oversight entity based on their review of budget documents. “And the City’s anti-violence efforts would also shrink by 21 percent — a $2.5 million reduction that will be felt across several programs that serve at-risk young people and their families,” the publication noted.

In all, the Philadelphia Police Department is slated to receive $760 Million dollars out of a $4.8 Billion budget. The PPD receives 15 percent of the city’s operating budget — and that doesn’t count pensions or employee benefits.

We believe the City of Philadelphia should change these priorities and at least rededicate the funds.

We have noticed, as millions across the country have, how unprepared our City and country was for the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the City had countless resources to attack peaceful protesters on Monday, June 1, trapping our fellow citizens on I-676 in Center City, teargassing the fleeing crowds. The decision to use a respiratory weapon on peaceful protesters during a respiratory pandemic did not go unnoticed.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of any big city in the country — 26 percent of Philadelphians currently live in poverty, with 14 percent living in “deep poverty,” according to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts, a statistic that has remained constant for generations.

Almost a third of Philly’s Black families live in poverty in Philadelphia; and Black individuals are five times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. We must rethink, and reprioritize, how funds are used in the city budget.

But where? We have maintained our priorities for streets funding over several years, because it leads to more traffic projects and, eventually, safer streets.

Today’s budgetary challenges, though, mean advocating from behind.

Clearly, the city’s budget priorities can, and should, be used elsewhere. It’s happened in other cities and it can happen here. Already, in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests across 50 states and around the world, Los Angeles announced it would cut $100 million-$150 million from its police force and reinvest that money in communities of color. This idea is catching on, and other cities are likely to follow. Philadelphia should too.

We will support the work of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Immigrant communities and listen to where additional budgetary funds should go, based on their leadership. We will actively help when and if necessary. What communities and representatives of Philadelphia’s Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities decide is what we will support.

Safe streets mean many different things. Philadelphia’s streets are not safe enough for the 100 people who die in traffic crashes each year. Nor are they safe for the 300+ Philadelphians killed by gun violence every calendar year. U.S. Streets were not safe enough for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black Americans who’ve become the victims of police and racial violence.

We have advocated for a Vision Zero policy in Philadelphia for the past five years because, among other reasons, bicyclists will not be safe if people walking, rolling, and driving aren’t safe.

The same holds true for racial violence: If Black, Brown, Indigenous and Immigrant communities are not safe to enjoy their communities and streets, none of us are safe.

In a June 3 Philadelphia Magazine op/ed, Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, and Isaiah Thomas suggest the $14 million increase for the Philadelphia Police Department be used elsewhere: “As we continue the City’s budget hearings, we should prioritize funding programs that will support and empower Black communities that have been deprived of resources and wealth for decades and ask ourselves if increasing the Philadelphia Police Department’s budget by $14 million will help to advance racial equity.”

This is encouraging. But what it looks like, exactly, is not for us to decide.

We are making a pledge to support the realignment of those funds, and others, to advance racial equity and empower Black, Brown, Indigenous and Immigrant communities around the city.

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