On November 24, the City Council passed the 2021 budget by a vote of 29-21, a close victory for Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The budget includes a harsher speed limit penalty, a property tax increase, and reduction of the CPD budget by about three percent. The mayor’s office celebrated the occasion with a press release titled “What People Are Saying About the Passage of Mayor Lightfoot’s 2021 Budget” that featured quotes from labor, clergy, and civic leaders.
Four days before the budget was passed, a group of people stood on 53rd and Cottage Grove, tying a sign painted with the words “SPEEDING FINES ARE THEFT” to a speed camera’s pole.
These were organizers from the Defund CPD campaign, protesting Lightfoot’s specific plan to ticket drivers going six mph over the speed limit in order to increase revenue. Previously, tickets were only issued to drivers going more than ten mph over the limit.
Describing themselves as a smaller “pod” of Defund CPD, the organizers focus on their own neighborhoods: Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Washington Park, and Kenwood. This localized organizing contributed to the broader Defund campaign’s aim to try and convince aldermen to vote against the budget.
One organizer held a cardboard sign appealing to Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Pat Dowell (3rd), whose wards encompass Hyde Park/Woodlawn and Washington Park, to “VOTE NO.”
Passing cars honked in apparent approval of this protest of speeding fines; one woman rolled down her window to yell emphatically, “I agree! I. Agree!”
In the eyes of Defund CPD, the approved budget met none of the campaign’s demands, which include putting money towards a Treatment Not Trauma program that would provide an alternative to policing; closing Homan Square, a CPD detention and interrogation site at South Homan and West Fillmore; an “Amazon Tax amendment” that would create a new city tax for large logistics companies; and a TIF amendment called the “Sunset Amendment” that would shut down TIF districts in wealthy neighborhoods in order to leave more money for public schools, libraries, and parks.
Jasson Perez, one of Defund CPD’s founders, described Lightfoot’s budget as “regressive.”
“I’m a socialist, I’m a radical, so I don’t expect people to do fully what I want … but I expect at least meeting folks part of the way,” he said, adding that the final budget taxed community members instead of corporations and didn’t defund or provide meaningful alternatives to the police.
The final budget puts $1.3 million towards a hybrid crisis response program that keeps police but sends a mental health provider, a paramedic, and a trained crisis intervention officer alongside the police officer to respond to crisis calls involving mental health. The budget also permanently axes 600 vacant police jobs and reduces CPD’s overall budget to $1.69 billion, a reduction of 3.3 percent.
But Defund organizers say this is not enough: according to Asha Ransby-Sporn, another Defund CPD founder who is part of its steering committee and leads trainings, this amount is smaller than what other smaller cities have given to similar programs and “could set it up to fail.”
Ransby-Sporn felt especially disappointed by her own alderman, Hairston, with whom she met to discuss the budget. In the meeting, according to Ransby-Sporn, Hairston acknowledged that the police budget was “untouchable” and needed to change. But “her actions don’t match up with the lip service,” Ransby-Sporn said.
Hairston told the Weekly she sees the budget as a starting point; she plans to prioritize finding grants and other sources of funding for the crisis response program, such as any new programs implemented by the incoming Biden administration that could help with such efforts.
Hairston is a member of the Progressive Caucus, a group of reform-minded aldermen who seek to put taxpayers first. The group’s vote was split during this budget season. Other members of the caucus who voted yes on the budget include Andre Vasquez (40th), Maria Hadden (49th), Mike Rodriguez (22nd), and Sophia King (4th).
Ransby-Sporn described these aldermen as “folks who … have indicated that they’re supportive in theory of our movement, but when it comes to using their power to actually fight, which to me means blocking a budget that fails to defund the police, they failed to do that.”
Vasquez has gotten heat for his vote from Chicago’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists, of which he is a member. After the budget vote, CDSA issued a statement “call[ing] upon him to resign his membership” and saying in a live tweet of the budget vote that Vasquez “is not a democratic socialist.” According to CDSA, it has also created a committee on Dec. 5 that will examine whether Vasquez’s conduct warrants expulsion from the organization.
Perez put the yes votes down to both Hadden and Vasquez wanting to stay in Mayor Lightfoot’s good graces, and described Vasquez in particular as having made a “self-serving” choice driven by politics.
Vasquez defended his vote via email to the Weekly, saying that his “negotiations helped to avert it from being a more austere budget.” Like Hairston, he views the co-responder alternative dispatch pilot program as a starting point: “a program we can continue to fund as we figure out how to divest from police.”
Hadden said she switched her vote from no to yes after achieving the inclusion of funding towards the crisis response pilot. “I voted yes in order to get the non-law enforcement component included,” she said.“The mayor would not include that in any of the discussions … she only wanted to do the co-responder model, which is only with police.” Hadden believes that getting the non-law enforcement part of the pilot formally passed by the City Council, rather than only banking on the mayor’s word, was a step towards the fully non-law enforcement model that Hadden is aiming for.
“It’s going to be my job and the job of other alderpeople to put pressure on [Chicago’s Department of Public Health] and the mayor to make sure that this pilot is all that it’s supposed to be,” she said, acknowledging that the pilot was small and most likely not going to last the whole year.
In an email to the Weekly, Rodriguez hinted at potential repercussions of voting no on the budget, saying that “I voted for a budget where the alternative was to appease conservative Alderman [sic] who favored laying off potentially thousands of workers at the height of a pandemic.”
King did not respond to the Weekly’s requests for comment.
On the whole, however, Defund CPD organizers see the significant number of no-votes as “a good sign,” in the words of Ransby-Sporn. She contrasted the close vote on the 2021 budget to Rahm Emanuel’s rubber-stamp city council, which passed his budget unanimously in 2011
Although the Defund campaign is going into “hibernation” until April 2021, Perez says that next budget season, they plan to start much earlier and invest their resources into conceptualizing more suggested legislation, such as Treatment Not Trauma; according to Perez, this gives lawmakers concrete alternatives rather than just general demands. Perez says the campaign is looking to create a “people’s budget” similar to the one put forward by organizations Reclaim the Block and Black Visions Collective in Minneapolis.
Jade Yan is a staff reporter for the Weekly who covers politics and police reform. She last interviewed demonstrators about their thoughts on an ideal America.