The Charleston People's Budget Coalition is a united front advocating for an equitable city budget, the elimination of poverty and racial disparities, and a redistribution of power to create true accountability with city officials in Charleston. Coalition members include: ACLU of South Carolina, Black Liberation Fund, Charleston BLM, Charleston Black Pride, Charleston Democratic Socialists of America, Community First Land Trust, JC & Associates LLC, Lowcountry Action Committee, Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, Mika Gadsden- Charleston Activist Network, NAACP Charleston, and We Are Family.
Charleston is not safe when 27.6% of residents face shelter poverty, when more pedestrians die from unsafe streets than almost anywhere else in the United States, when many suffer from low wages and high cost of living, or when our neighbors cannot access the mental health or substance use treatment they need. Charleston is not safe when Black neighborhoods face the brunt of flooding and climate displacement because of environmental racism. Charleston is not safe when Black families and communities experience daily and long-term damage caused by underfunded public services and gentrification.
In the 2021 budget, we urge Charleston City Council and Mayor Tecklenburg to reallocate five million dollars from the Charleston Police Department (CPD) into permanently affordable housing, youth and education programs, sidewalks, weatherization programs, living wages for city employees, and meaningful investment in the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion, and Racial Conciliation.
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To increase public safety in 2021:
- Improve access to housing: Increase opportunities for home ownership, rental assistance, transitional housing. Increase the number of Homelessness Outreach Coordinators.
- Provide opportunities for youth: Increase summer youth employment programs for youth and seasonal workers specifically in underserved communities. Provide financial literacy programs for youth and underserved communities through a Bank On initiative.
- Build safe infrastructure: Create and maintain sidewalk programs in neighborhoods with high public transit ridership. Provide subsidies for Weatherization Assistance Programs for low-income neighborhoods.
- Guarantee all city workers a living wage: Implement a $15 living wage minimum guarantee for every employee that works for the city. Create and pass a resolution demonstrating strong support for every employee to be paid $15/hour.
- Directly invest in racial justice: Expand the Department of Racial Reconciliation and Tolerance and hire additional staff. Fund the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation to continue working beyond their 90-day allotted time frame and pay impacted or low-income people to participate.
Why shift money away from CPD?
CPD is overfunded. The City of Charleston in 2020 allocated around $53 million (approximately 22% of its total budget) to policing, funding the Charleston Police Department at a rate of $341.41 per capita. Comparatively, the city allocated just $6.03 per capita to Housing and Community Development, $3.33 to Resilience and Emergency Management, and $1.63 to the Mayor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families. This disparity among city departments is not universal. For example, while Charleston spends 22% of its budget on policing, Virginia Beach, a city with over three times the population of Charleston, spends only 9% of its budget on policing.
CPD officers spend the overwhelming majority of their time responding to low-level incidents. Only 13.8% of arrests in Charleston in 2019 involved incidents with serious threats of violence, while up to 86.2% of arrests are for nonviolent, largely low-level offenses. Since 2015, there have been more arrests in Charleston for marijuana possession than there have been for all violent offenses combined.
Over-policing has steep societal costs. During the first half of 2020, the Charleston Police Department arrested Black people for marijuana possession at 6.25x the rate of white people. This pattern is not limited to marijuana arrests. According to the police department's own arrest data, since 2015, despite being only 26.3% of the population, Black people have made up:
- 45.6 percent of Disorderly Conduct charges.
- 40 percent of “Disobeying a Lawful Order” charges.
- 54.7 percent of “Open Container, Alcohol” charges.
- 54.0 percent of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia charges.
- 46.2 percent of Public Urination charges.
- 69.9 percent of Loitering charges.
In 2019, the CPD racial bias audit found that black community members were nearly 3 times more likely to face the use of force from CPD. Black men are involved in 53 percent of CPD's use of force incidents, and young Black men (25 years old or under) represent 23 percent of community members involved in use of force incidents. White officers are also disproportionately involved in use-of-force: 90% of officers who use force are white, but white officers comprise only 77% of all police personnel.
Charleston can create true public safety by reinvesting in communities that have experienced centuries of harm, communities from which the city has divested. Now is the time for our elected city leaders to take the first steps toward building a public safety system that ensures the safety and well-being of all.
The Charleston People's Budget Coalition Policy Platform:
- Reallocate $5 million in 2021 from CPD to city programs providing services to communities that have been harmed by centuries of divestment and oppression.
- Release CPD’s line item budget with detail.
- Demilitarize CPD by ending all participation in federal programs that provide surplus military equipment or funding to buy military equipment, and returning any military equipment currently in CPD’s possession.
- Remove police substation in the Gadsden Green Apartment Complex.
- Decriminalize marijuana by ending arrests and citations for minor possession (less than one ounce).
- Create true community accountability through a permanent civilian body representative of impacted communities, following the Community Police Accountability Council model by Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Oppression.
- Create a formal policy that CPD will not cooperate with the 287g program and will commit to protecting undocumented people from ICE.
- Ensure that all announcements and press releases from CPD are released in Spanish.
- End civil asset forfeiture.
- Abolish cash bail.
- Pass an ordinance to ban the box on job applications.
- Create inclusionary zoning laws to support the creation of affordable and public housing by the public and private sector.
- Prevent the expansion of Highway 41 through the Phillips Community.
- Protect the communities potentially impacted by the expansion of highway 526.
- Halt the filling of Gadsden Creek.
- Remove Confederate statues.