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Community chalk art event advocates for reducing Grand Rapids Police budget

Organizers said the event was in response to Tuesday's city commission meeting, in which a proposal to lower the budget was not voted on.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Saturday afternoon, children, families and members of the Grand Rapids community gathered at Calder Plaza to draw messages in chalk about reducing the funding of the police department. 

"We wanted to have a way to engage families and kids in the work of really knowing what defund the GRPD means and also think about ways that families want this community to look," said Danah Montgomery, one of the organizers of the event. 

The call to defund police, or reduce funding and reinvest in other community services, is being headed up by a group called People's Budget GR. Their main focus is bringing the police budget down to the legal minimum of 32% of the city's general operating fund. Currently, GRPD's funding is about 38.6% of this fund. This equates about a $9 million cut.

Montgomery said Saturday's chalk event, which took place in front of city hall, was in response a city commission meeting this week in which a motion to lower the budget to the city charter minimum was halted by the city attorney. Second Commissioner Milinda Ysasi brought the motion in a morning meeting and it was backed by Second Ward Commissioner Joe Jones, before it was withdrawn with plans for it to be voted on in the evening commission meeting.

"I really think it was a disservice to the community," said Montgomery about the city commission not being able to vote on the motion. 

Credit: WZZM/Rose White

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Tuesday's city commission last nearly six and half hours, with much of the night being dominated by public comment. Nearly everyone who called in shared an opinion on police funding, with about half calling for budget reductions and half advocating for the budget to remain at its current levels. 

City Attorney Anita Hitchcock told the commissioners shortly before the meeting that they did not have the authority to "unilaterally" amend the 2021 approved budget.

"Wanting to put on the pressure a little but more and let city officials know that we're still here. The community is still here, and we're not happy about this," said Montgomery. 

Eleanor Moreno, who also helped organize the chalk event, said she wanted the commissioners to be out in the community more to hear their perspective. 

"They need to come out here and talk to the people, not the business leaders, not those kind of, continued elevated voices," she said. 

At Tuesday's meeting, the commission did approve a $400,000 shift in funding from the police budget to go toward three new civilian positions, including one in the Oversight and Public Accountability office. Asja Saintard says that's not enough.

"That's nothing. What is that going to do for our communities? That's nothing," she said. 

Saintard, Montgomery and Moreno all said they would like to see the police funding reduced and that money to go toward community services, like housing, education and mental health. 

About two dozen people attended the chalk event, writing messages like "Defund GRPD, reinvest in communities," "All power to the people," and "Community first." Some people also drew pictures. 

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