Declaring that “systemic reforms or necessary to decrease the opportunities of police violence against people of color”, New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams announced his proposal to form a new citizen advisory committee charged with examining the allocation of City resources across the local justice system.

“People have been protesting all over the world; and certainly we’ve seen protest here in the streets of New Orleans,” Williams said. “It’s all coming out of what we have seen in living color in the recent deaths of Brianna Taylor,George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Cities nationwide now have to come to terms with the dire and immediate need for systemic reforms.”

Specifically mentioning community organizations like V.O.T.E. and Our Voice/Nuestra Voz among among others, Williams said that it will be important for representatives of organizations that have historically served marginalized citizens to have a place on this proposed panel, citing them as “groups that have been fighting this cost for years.”

Mary Moran, co-founder of Our Voice/Nuetra Voz, welcomed Councilman Williams’ proposal.

“We have been talking to Councilman Williams and the Council (about) policing in our communities for years,” Moran told The New Orleans Tribune. “I am so glad this committee is (proposed). And we will continue to be in the streets. Our communities need care, resources and safety, not the police.”

The press conference took place on the steps of City Hall just as Rev. Al Sharpton was taking the pulpit at a Houston church to deliver George Floyd’s eulogy.

Williams, who has thrown his hat into the Orleans Parish District Attorney race and who serves as the chairman of the Council’s Criminal Justice committee, also has a meeting set for June 11 delve into NOPDs use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protestors last week.

Prompted by a question from media during the press conference, Williams offered his thoughts on what “defunding” police looks like or actually means.

“When people talk about defending the police or the DAs office they’re talking about making sure their tax dollars or not being used to abuse them,“ said Williams.

As for his vision was the advisory panel he proposes William says he expects a group that will be as big as it needs to be in order to get a robust cross-section of the community and one that would meet as much as needed in order to review and make recommendations about the allocation of city resources and associated policy priorities across the entire criminal justice system. He sees the formation of this panel as an opportunity to in sure that voices that are often left out of the government decision making process.

“We need to be hearing from those communities who are most heavily policed,” Williams said, adding that recent incidents across the nation and closer to home “painfully highlight the failure of government to protect and serve all citizens of its communities.”

To be sure, proposals to “defund” police as controversial and they are varied, with many focusing on diverting funding to better address social issues such as public education, economic development and job creation, with advocates pointing to improvements in those areas as ways to decrease crime and by extension the need for as much policing.

Williams will have to officially introduce legislation, which the City Council would have to then approve, in order to form the proposed advisory panel. According to media reports, “defunding” police in New Orleans is not being a considered by Mayor Cantrell’s administration.

Williams’ announcement comes as cities across the nation are reportedly taking serious looks at dismantling, reorganizing or defunding police departments in their jurisdictions in response to public outcries against police brutality.

On Sunday (June 7), nine members of the Minneapolis City Council announced they were seeking to dismantle the city’s police department after former officer Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 as the 46-year-old Black man pleaded for help. The proposal has received pushback from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on June 3 said that he tasked the city to “identify $250 million in cuts” to invest more money into the Black community, communities of color, women and “people who have been left behind.”

The city will try and cut between $100 million to $150 million from its police budget alone, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.

And on Friday, June 5, Garcetti tweeted, “While our work for racial justice begins in L.A., it must echo throughout our state and across our nation. I will keep working with leaders in Sacramento and D.C. to advance legislation that protects Black lives and communities of color long denied equity in our laws.”

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on June 7 that he would respond to protesters’ demands by moving to shift funds away from the NYPD toward youth and social services. 

De Blasio promised to announce specifics before the July 1 budget deadline. The NYPD currently has a $6 billion annual budget – about 6 percent of de Blasio’s proposed $90 billion budget for the city.

Action is also being taken at the federal level. House and Senate Democrats on Monday (June 8) unveiled the new “Justice in Policing Act of 2020,” which includes major overhauls for how police officers around the country will do their jobs. 

It includes prohibiting the use of chokeholds, lowering legal standards to pursue criminal and civil penalties for police misconduct, and banning certain no-knock warrants.

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