Dear DC Council Judiciary Committee,
Thank you, and thank you for this hearing.
My name is Hannah Weilbacher and I’m a Ward 1 resident. I am testifying today because Black lives matter.
I’m a member of Jews United for Justice, a community of thousands of Jews and allies committed to advancing social, racial, and economic justice in DC. As our city grapples with the systemic and institutional racism recently highlighted by the uprising this summer and the killing of Deon Kay, I also ask that the DC Council do everything in your power to protect Washington residents, to hold police accountable, create transparent police processes, and defund MPD and instead invest in programs, policies, and practices that truly keep people safe. The Council should implement the common sense recommendations being made by community-led institutions such as ACLU-DC, Black Lives Matter DC, and DC Justice Lab.
I’m in support of the bills on the table today, as they are important pieces of legislation to increase community safety by limiting police powers, but they need to go further. I appreciate the addition of Black Lives Matter DC and other community representatives to the Police Reform Commission. I also support the ask to ban no-knock warrants, and to ban jump outs. Proposed changes to the Police Complaints Board and the Standards Board are important, if incomplete, changes, but there is more to be done in reallocating responsibilities away from MPD and towards other essential services that address the root causes of crime. Police reform is not the end; I am also asking that MPD be defunded. I support the call to divest from the police because the MPD continues to inflict harm, and instead invest in human needs and violence prevention that will actually make all of us safer.
I worked with the Paid Family Leave campaign which passed the Universal Paid Leave Act in 2016 which, Councilmembers, you know well and Councilmember Allen you helped champion. This July, finally, we have seen people now able to take paid time away to be with their family during the most intensive times in their lives.
As members of the Council know well, the primary, coordinated, corporate-backed opposition from frankly right-wing opponents even within the Democratic party was: ”DC cannot afford a paid family and medical leave program.” Considering the $600 million budget of the District’s dangerous, unchecked, racist police force, it’s clear that there was and is always money to support DC families, but the precious resource lacking is political will.
Today, as you listen to many testimonies from your Washington, DC neighbors who are bringing forward specific, researched, data-driven recommendations, I hope that each Councilmember sees that the hard work of researching and proposing viable options has been done, and the political will — your action — is what’s needed.
MPD’s budget hovers around $600 million, and we are one of the most heavily policed cities in America. Money should be reallocated from MPD’s budget to cover essential human needs. I echo the asks highlighted today by Stop Police Terror Project DC, Black Swan Academy, and other groups in DC’s Movement for Black Lives, such as reallocating funding from the MPD budget to pay for medical and mental health professionals and social workers to respond to emergency calls, and moving funding for school resource police officers to pay for mental health care and trauma-informed services.
Safe and secure housing, quality childcare and education, reliable healthcare, access to food, and well paying jobs are and will always be more important in preventing violence and building safe and thriving communities than the absence or presence of police.
Real safety comes from building a society where everyone has the resources they need to live in health and wholeness, not from policing its residents. There are nearly 4,000 MPD officers as well as several dozen other law enforcement agencies making up thousands of additional officers in DC. Violence has risen and fallen over the years while the number of police has held relatively steady, reinforcing what decades of research shows- violence is a result of failures to invest in and support communities by making sure people’s needs are met.
So, I ask the Council to show true leadership in the DC government by fighting for common-sense policies that can directly address the racism and violence we see today:
- Maintaining and increasing funding for the Office of Neighborhood and Safety Engagement and violence interrupter programs.
- Reallocating funding from the MPD budget to pay for medical and mental health professionals and social workers to respond to emergency calls.
- Cutting funding for school resource officers and reallocating that funding to pay for mental health care and trauma-informed services in DC public schools, along with technological support for remote learning.
- Increased services for formerly incarcerated DC residents including housing, education, and job assistance.
- Maintaining a permanent budget item for public housing repairs. This year, the council should put $60 million to repair public housing.
- Increasing the availability of high-quality childcare.
- Maintaining and increasing funding for vital nutrition and food access programs.
- Suspending rent and mortgage payments in DC until the COVID-19 crisis is over
- Providing COVID-19 relief funding to all DC residents, including undocumented residents.
Thank you for this hearing and for listening to our testimonies. I sincerely hope the testimonies of many DC residents — particularly those most threatened by policing — will persuade the Council that our communities want and need non-police resources to keep each other safe.
Hannah Weilbacher, Ward 1