While protests erupted across America following the death of George Floyd and “Defund the police” became a familiar rallying cry of the racial justice movement, Baltimore activist Ray Kelly noticed a key perspective missing from the national debate.
He wanted to hear from the people whose lives were at stake: those living in communities most impacted by violent crime, police misconduct, growing poverty and persistent disinvestment — communities like Sandtown-Winchester, the West Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray died from injuries suffered in police custody five years before the wave of protests that gripped the nation in summer 2020.
“There were thousands of people protesting, but most weren’t from these impacted communities,” Kelly said. “As we saw ‘defund’ and ‘refund’ and all these taglines coming into play, we wanted to focus on listening and elevating their voices.”
His relatively new West Baltimore-based organization, the Citizens Policing Project, designed a study that involved interviewing community members about public safety, asking open-ended questions about their personal experiences, attitudes toward the police and proposed solutions. Kelly established the organization in 2018 to advocate for increased civilian oversight of the police department.
When asked whether they supported calls to defund police, only about 30% of more than 1,000 people the group interviewed said yes, according to a recent report that Kelly authored based on findings from the study.
“The immediate reaction … usually was to emphasize how violent and dangerous our streets are,” the report says.
Supporters of the defund movement in Baltimore want to transfer money directly from the police budget to schools, affordable housing, drug treatment and mental health programs — services meant to address the root causes of violence. Their voices likely will enter upcoming discussions about the city’s proposed 2023 budget, which was released Monday and calls for increasing police…
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