Durham's Ward 2 City Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton has seen the street art. He's heard the message. He pushing back - arguing the city tried defunding the police. It didn't work.
Over the weekend, DEFUND was painted on the street outside of the Durham police headquarters and FUND was painted outside of the Durham County Department of Public Health. https://t.co/iWExYCtqMv pic.twitter.com/YwFnFofpE4— ABC11 EyewitnessNews (@ABC11_WTVD) June 22, 2020
Defunding the police: Raleigh activists explain what the controversial concept really means
"As a Black man in America, I understand the animated spirit of the defund movement," Middleton said.
In an interview with ABC11, Middleton said the emotional rallying cry of defund the police in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and others before, is understandable.
But, Durham, with its growing population and gang violence problem, can't handle that kind of immediate cut to the force.
Student calls on Durham schools to defund school resource officers in favor of mental health programs
"You will notice immediately if we cut funding to the police without having some contingency plan," Middleton said.
Last week, Middleton issued a different way forward -- a proposal titled: The Way to Defund the Police is to Not Defund the Police. (Yet).
- Spend the equivalent of 10% of the police budget, roughly $7 million, on programs to make police contact less likely.
- Research and deploy unarmed mental health professionals as replacement for cops on certain calls.
- Fund a Universal Basic Income Program.
- Fast track the city's Shared Economic Prosperity Plan.
Middleton acknowledges the plan is an expensive proposition that would requiring extreme budget belt-tightening.
But he points out, last year, when city council rejected DPD's request for 18 additional officers, a move celebrated by many nationally as step toward police defunding, what followed was an uptick in gang violence and requests for more officer overtime, forcing city leaders to hire six more officers six months later.
"I think that tells us something. If you try it with nothing to replace it, we're just gonna default to our old positions," Middleton said.
Meanwhile, on East Main Street, it is night eight on the sidewalk outside Durham Police Headquarters. Demonstrators have pitched tents and are occupying this space to send the same message they wrote on road, "Defund the Police."
When ABC11 asked Skip Gibbs, one of the lead organizers of the Other America Movement, how long demonstrators planned to stay, he answered, "We got all the time in the world."
Gibbs and his group believe much of DPD's $70 million budget would be better spent solving the societal woes that make police necessary.
"I think what we need to admit is there is a direct correlation between poverty and crime. If your goal is to stop crime then you should probably stop poverty," Gibbs said.
While he supported Middleton's pitch for a universal basic income, Gibbs dismissed much of the proposal as platitudes.
"I think that the time for research and means testing is over. I think that if Black lives matter, then you should do something to enrich the lives of Black people and brown people that live in this community," Gibbs said.
Durham City Council meets next week. Middleton's proposal is not on the agenda nor is it part of the city budget passed by city leaders earlier this month. Middleton says he does plan to codify some of his proposals in upcoming city resolutions.