The Bakersfield City Council voted at Wednesday’s meeting to adopt a budget that many say allocates too much money to the Bakersfield Police Department. The vote was unanimous.
The new budget increases the Bakersfield Police Department budget about 10 percent, allowing the department to add 44 new positions. It allocates more than 40 percent of the City’s general fund — $119 million — and 28 percent of Measure N funds to BPD. People’s Budget Bako, a grassroots coalition, was advocating for the City council to reallocate BPD funds to other services, like affordable housing,education, infrastructure, and mental health services. The group would also like to see more resources go to black and brown neighborhoods.
“This is the first time I am here at a city council meeting,” said Fedrica Harrison. “I am here today because I am part of the generation that is making a difference. There’s a lot of protest. We do not have to go into our history to see what is needed in our communities, which is defunding the police and allocating the money for social services.”
The 2020-2021 fiscal year budget has been a hot topic, and the council has received much pushback to defund the Bakersfield Police Department since the death of George Floyd. The City Council received more than 2,000 public comment emails from the community asking to de-fund police.
More than 100 people showed up to the meeting; however, only 25 people were allied into the city hall chambers for the meeting due social distancing precautions. Once the 25 seats were full, an overflow of residents watched the meeting on a TV in the lobby, while many community members remained outside the chambers to protest the budget.
According to People’s Budget Bako, the City will spend $325,000 a day on policing and only spend $118,000 a day on housing, open space, economic, and community needs.
“We are asking to defund the BPD and distribute those funds to programs that actually protect and serve and uplift the bakersfield community,” said Faheemah Salahud-din Floyd. “I expect results and to see change.”
It was an emotional night for many. Once the council voted to adopt the budget, many opponents of the budget began to shed tears, as many have been advocating for such things for quite some time.
“The coalition has been organizing with black and brown people around police reform since she was a teenager,” said Salahud-din Floyd. “I haved children, and I want them to grow up in a society that is safe.”
Salahud-din Floyd said her eight-year-old daughter is scared to go to the post office because she is scared because “she thinks police will murder her.”
“I cannot tell her that is false because time, history and current events have shown that is true,” said Salahud-din Floyd. “We are asking you to defund BPD and adopt the budget we have created that reflects what people in Bakersfield actually want. If you don’t listen tonight to the people, you are just as guilty as the murderers that continue to kill black people.”
Salahud-din Floyd told the council police are the oldest “organized domestic terrorist organization” in the U.S. She said the institution was created for slave patrols and Night Watches, which have become modern police departments.
Although there was disappointment with the vote among many residents, some say they are not giving up on this fight, and there is work to be done.
Daulton Jones, a community organizer for Faith in the Valley and one of the leaders on the Peoples Bako Budget, said Peoples Budget Bako will continue their work. The coalition has more than 1,500 signatures calling to defund BPD.
Jones said, “Basically the city council is saying none of those voices matter if they approve the current budget.”
Featured photo: A group, mostly against the 2020-21 Bakersfield City budget, spoke before the Bakersfield City Council meeting Wednesday in the chambers that was mostly empty as distancing was practiced due to the coronavirus pandemic. The budget would increase the Bakersfield Police Department budget about 10 percent allowing the department to add 44 new positions. In public comment that lasted about an hour, most of the speakers were in favor of de-funding the police. Some asking that the vote to approve the $630 million budget should at least be delayed and time set aside to discuss the $119.9 million BPD portion of the budget. An overflow crowd gathered outside the chambers watching the meeting on a television screen. After discussion the Bakersfield City Council, without opposition, approved the $630 million budget for 2020-21. Photo by Henry A. Barrios for Kern Sol News
Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.