Four first-term City Council members in Philadelphia vowed Friday to continue pushing for cuts to the city police department’s budget – during a week that saw more than 200 stores looted in reaction to the Monday police-shooting death of Walter Wallace Jr.
The four councilmembers – Kendra Brooks, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Isaiah Thomas – pledged their support for police cuts and other changes during an online call with local political activists, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The same group had pushed for significant cuts in June but were unsuccessful, the newspaper reported.
“Every councilmember on this call was on board for a higher level of cut to the police than we had,” Gauthier told call participants Friday, according to the report. “We couldn’t get enough to get the votes that we needed. … I think we have to figure out where we’re cutting from and also what we’re investing in. I think we have to be very clear about that.”
In June, just after the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that sparked riots and protests across the U.S., the Philadelphia City Council canceled a proposed $19 million budget increase for the police and diverted $14 million away from the existing police budget, in part by reassigning some police employees to other departments while they performed the same work.
During the online meeting, the councilmembers heard from some high school students who said they were afraid of police officers and activists who said the city needed to change how some mental health calls and 911 emergencies are handled, the Inquirer reported.
On Wednesday, police union leader John McNesby called upon city officials to show greater support for the police department, suggesting the Wallace case was blown out of proportion.
Wallace was shot Monday by two officers after he charged at them with a knife, police have said. Neither officer had a stun gun.
“We’re calling on the city leadership to release the facts of this case. It’s not hard. It’s cut-and-dry. Release what you have. Support your officers, back your officers. And let’s get a handle on this thing,” McNesby said in a video posted on Twitter.
McNesby recorded the video on Aramingo Avenue in the city, where many stores were looted earlier this week, Philadelphia’s KYW-TV reported.
On Monday, McNesby claimed in a statement that city police officers were “being vilified” for “doing their job and keeping the community safe,” after dealing with Wallace, whom McNesby described as “a man with a knife.”
On Friday, city leaders said police body camera footage and 911 recordings linked to the Wallace shooting would be made public next Wednesday, in an arrangement approved by them and by members of the Wallace family.
Meanwhile, members of the Pennsylvania National Guard arrived in the city Friday to assist local law enforcement as part of efforts to prevent more vandalism and violence following several nights of unrest.
The prospect of budget cuts wasn’t the only method councilmembers used this week in a bid to limit the police department’s ability to maintain order.
On Thursday, the Philadelphia City Council, in a 14-3 vote, approved a ban on police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray against demonstrators, the Inquirer reported.
Voting against the measure, in an online meeting, were Republican council members David Oh and Brian O’Neill and Democrat Bobby Henson, the report said.
The proposal’s sponsor, Councilwoman Helen Gym, said residents had complained of having tear gas and rubber bullets used against them without warning during protests in May and June following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
On Thursday, Gym claimed that the alleged action by police in those past protests “undid years of collaboration and work” between police and local communities in building trust, the Inquirer reported.
Opponent Oh had suggested that tear gas was a preferable option for dispersing crowds, rather than deal with the prospect of worsening violence in neighborhoods – even if it meant tear gas would enter homes of people who weren’t protesting.
“Better their homes have tear gas than be set on fire,” he said, according to the Inquirer.