By Carl Thomas
Special to the AFRO
The District of Columbia Council committees have been busy in this last week of budget hearings across various categories, but two hot budget topics brought more than one thousand Washingtonians to the legislative conversation- funding for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the Department of Corrections (DOC).
Each year the budget, which originates with the Executive Office of the Mayor, is presented to the D.C. Council for approval in mid spring. For the past few months, each of the committees sanctioned by the Council, convened hearings for the public to provide feedback in support for or against proposed budgetary expenditures.
As with every year, the committee has heard testimony and are developing recommendations based on the arguments offered. Ultimately, after hundreds of hours of testimony, the Council hopes to deliver a budget that is balanced, fair and has taken the recommendation of both the Executive Office of the Mayor and the residents of the District of Columbia into account.
Last week’s hearings began with the contentious argument over funding for the MPD held by the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.
The District of Columbia, like several urban jurisdictions in the country, continues to be engulfed in a heated discussion over law enforcement funding. Many jurisdictions nationwide have made moves to actively decrease or defund law enforcement entities in an effort to meet the frustrated cries of largely African American and minority populated communities.
The national spotlight that has been thrust upon the legislative activity of major cities during this pandemic makes for especially popular testimony requests as the Council works out the budget.
The committee, which is chaired by Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen (D), generally draws 20-30 public witnesses who wish to submit testimony either in person or via email. A spokesperson for Allen confirmed that more than 500 people signed up to provide personal public testimony. More than 1,500 others opted to submit written testimony via email, phone message, or video upload.
Once the hearing began, witness after witness submitted testimony regarding their experiences with MPD, and the District’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE). The general tone of the MPD public witnesses was that of frustration, as residents detailed the harassment they experienced in specific sections of the city.
Nee Nee Taylor, co-conductor for Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, who delivered her testimony via zoom from a protest in nearby Arlington, Virginia to defund the police, spoke about the repetitive nature of the community’s requests.
“Deja vu, I was just here last year, asking for the same thing. I’m tired,” Taylor said passionately. “The community is tired. There’s a cop on every marginalized block in my community and people are still getting shot.”
Taylor’s sentiment seemed to be repeated as several people complained of ineffective and discriminatory policing tactics, primarily in the poorer sections of the city.
The Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety also met at the end of the week to accept testimony on the District’s Department of Corrections. Much like their front-end partners, DOC public witness testimony was riddled with firsthand accounts of cruelties being endured by those being incarcerated at the D.C. Jail.
Several witnesses described conditions at the D.C. Jail as inhumane, but the most vivid description came from an email submitted by Kelsey Phipps. Phipps, who is currently detained at D.C. Jail, started by sharing that he and other inmates were just getting dry from feces contaminated flooding which lasted the prior 12 hours. “Last year the Council approved spending nearly $180 million to torture residents in which the united nations long declared inhumane.” Phipps continued, “This committee should feel haunted. Before lockdown DOC was using solitary confinement more than three times as much as the national average.”
To find out more about the Budget Hearing process, watch current or archived hearings or to sign up to provide testimony, visit www.DCCouncil.us.
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