In honor of Margy Wilkinson, a longtime Berkeley activist who died Saturday, protesters gathered Tuesday to demand the City Council to defund the police and invest in the community.
About 16 Berkeley residents gathered around 5:30 p.m. outside the Civic Center before the regular City Council meeting to urge council members to reduce Berkeley Police Department’s general fund allocation by 50% and reinvest that money in social welfare and services such as housing, mental health and restorative justice. According to UC Berkeley alumna Moni Law, Berkeley currently spends 44% of its budget on the police.
“It’s really about getting the right balance and right services with a limited budget, and I trust that (City Council) can do it,” Law said. “Sometimes I’m concerned that they will accept that which is, but we don’t have time for that. We can’t wait. There are lives in the balance right now. ”
Law added that between 35% and 45% of calls to BPD are related to mental health crises. Since BPD officers only receive 38 hours of mental health training, she said it would be better to send someone trained in psychology to address these issues.
Additionally, Law wants preventative and holistic treatment for mental health and homelessness over police response. She added that she is not anti-police, but pro-community safety.
“It’s important that we are balancing all of the urgent needs of the really special community that is Berkeley, which I love, and ensuring we have law and order and police protection,” Law said. “But what good is that if you don’t have enough food, or you’re unhoused or facing a mental health crisis without adequate services?”
Richie Smith, an activist and Berkeley resident since 1949, said she is concerned about the gentrification and police action in her community.
She added that she has been stopped twice by police — once for a broken taillight and another time because she didn’t use her turn signal.
“Things are not changing. But we need some change. We need to come together and be more humane towards one another,” Smith said. “I’m hoping for better for our community. We are all human beings.”
After the protest, participants joined the City Council meeting for public comment, during which they read statements sharing their demands.