A coalition of social justice and community activists Thursday demanded that Buffalo lawmakers override Mayor Byron W. Brown's plans to increase the city's police department budget by $500,000, arguing that such an increase is unjustifiable given what they characterized as the department's poor record on solving homicides and making residents feel safe.
Several members of the group spoke at a public hearing presided over by the Common Council on the mayor's 2017-2018 budget proposal.
Shaketa Redden, an organizer of Just Resisting, said the police department's $133 million budget already comprises 27.8 percent of the city's overall budget and it has not made the force any more effective in its mission.
"We have had only approximately 50 percent of our homicides solved since 2007, but the manpower on the street has continually increased and the budget has continually increased for that, and that doesn't make communities feel safer," Redden told lawmakers during the hearing, held in Council Chambers in City Hall.
"Studies show that if you actually put money back into communities they will be safer rather than this idea of assuming that they're safe," she added.
Others also voiced concerns.
"I'm speaking here today as a member of the Buffalo Chapter Showing Up for Racial Justice, and we want no part in a police force intended only to make white people feel safe," said Whitney Yax.
Yax lambasted what she called plans to purchase a cache of weapons for the department through the use of state grant funds.
Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana took exception to Yax's characterization, noting that the weapons being pursued are "much less lethal" than military-grade arms.
Fontana also noted that the state funds are specifically earmarked for the purpose of police weapons and that the same weapons already have been purchased by police departments in Amherst, Cheektowaga and Rochester.
John Washington, a community organizer with PUSH Buffalo, described the mayor's plan to increase police department funds as an example of rewarding bad behavior.
"We have constant (police) harassment of people who are, at the worst, selling weed. Meanwhile, we have unsolved murders and we have police getting ... some big guns and new cars. And yet we don't have community police officers who are coming into the community and saying to the old lady on the corner, 'What is going on on this street? What is going to make you feel safer?' " Washington said.
"To me, a budget is a moral document. What I spend my money on shows what I value, and this budget says we value and want to reward mass incarceration. We all know mass incarceration creates more crime, not less crime," he added.
Washington and others said the additional funds planned for the police department ought be diverted to social service and community support programs.