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Despite Strong Criticism Of Police Spending, Boston City Council Passes Budget

Mayor Marty Walsh's proposed budget survived a challenge from several Boston city councilors demanding more accountability from the city's police department. The council on Wednesday voted 8-5 to approve the $3.65 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

The budget includes $414 million for the police, which is almost identical to the fiscal 2020 budget. Walsh outlined cuts to his proposed in June, including a reduction in the overtime line item, and funding transfers to other social services departments. In all, Walsh proposed cuts that total more than 3% of the police budget, but less than the 10% many activists have demanded.

The hours-long budget hearing teetered between critics, who contended the police department is over-funded and money should go toward other city entities, and supporters, who said the budget gives a lot to other social programs.

Council president Kim Janey, who voted against the mayor's budget, rejected the binary debate.

"This is not an us versus them or the community versus the police," she said. "But there is a side to take and that's the side of justice. And that's where I want to stand."

Councilor Kinzie Bok, who voted in favor of the mayor's budget, said it allocated a lot more money to improving the community than in previous years.

"Our affordable housing budget increases by 40% — $18 million," she said. "I want to live in a city that treats housing as a human right."

Bok, who heads the Ways & Means Committee, acknowledged that law enforcement needs to be more accountable to residents, but said opposing city councilors didn't have a "viable" budgetary alternative.

All of the council's white members voted to support the mayor's budget. Councilor Lydia Edwards, a Black woman, also voted to approve it.

"I challenge anyone to question my character, and I'll be damned if anyone questions my Blackness or my solidarity for people of color based on any vote I take as a city councilor," she said. "I am really disappointed that this conversation seems to have pitted those social services and those people of color against police."

A day before the vote, city councilor Michelle Wu said she would not vote for the mayor's budget because, while it did reflect decreased funding for the police overtime budget, she said there are "no plans for actually cutting overtime hours."

"Our budget should represent meaningful change," Wu Tweeted Tuesday. "Not empty symbolism & budgetary sleight of hand."

In an interview after the vote, Rev. Willie Brodrick, of Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, said he was "disappointed" the council approved the budget, which he said "doesn't strongly address police accountability."

"You can't declare racism a public health crisis and your budget doesn't reflect that," he said, citing Walsh's declaration in June. "Policing needs to be radically reformed. All we're asking for is 10% [of the police budget to be reallocated]."

Edwards said a yes vote or no vote wouldn't bring about systemic change, and she knows constituents will be "disappointed" in her choice to approve the mayor's proposed operational budget.

"You should be more disappointed because you placed your beliefs for systemic reform and hopes for systemic reforms in a flawed, oppressive process," she said. "You thought we could undo the master's house with the master's tools. We cannot."

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Quincy Walters Twitter Reporter
Quincy Walters is a general assignment reporter for WBUR.

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