Twenty-four local residents again pushed city officials to defund the Ithaca Police Department during the Common Council’s last round of budget deliberations.
Common Council discussed nine expenditures to potentially include in the roughly $80 million 2021 budget, approving the hire of a part time staff member for Greater Ithaca Community Center, increased funding for Community Outreach Center and the purchase of a new fire pumper.
Council also voted to maintain 2020 levels of funding — roughly $50,000 — for Southside Community Center.
After public comment, IPD Chief Dennis Nayor advocated for the city to fund five new officer hires. IPD is currently operating with eight unfilled positions and anticipates several officer retirements over the coming year.
Council members proposed three hiring options — hiring five officers, three officers or two officers — but rejected all three proposals.
The budget will be up for a final vote at Common Council’s Nov. 4 meeting.
The public comments were in line with a letter addressed to Ithaca-area residents, Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, members of the Ithaca Common Council and representatives of a broad racial justice coalition — including organizations such as the Democratic Socialists of America and Tompkins County Showing up for Racial Justice.
The letter demands the reduction of the IPD budget by 80 percent, the enactment of an immediate IPD hiring freeze and the reallocation of funds to support Tompkins County communities.
Residents argued that the IPD inflicts more violence than it prevents and perpetuates a culture of distrust among residents.
On others’ support for IPD, Genevieve Rand, a local advocate, said, “most of that comes down to fear, comes down to stoking fear about violent crime, fear of the people that are around us in our city. Fear of the people who are honestly just suffering as a result of the pandemic, as a result of the economic crash.”
Jordan Clemons, the founder of the grassroots racial justice organization Unbroken Promise Initiative and Ithaca native, also advocated for the reallocation of resources to struggling communities in Ithaca.
“I did not have the privilege of enjoying Ithaca’s gorgeousness. I had to overcome Ithaca’s nightmare,” Clemons said of his upbringing in the West End area. “People in power do not have met the expectations of this marginalized demographic.”
For months, residents have used the public comment forum of Common Council meetings to advocate for the defunding of the IPD. But this most recent round of demands — some of which were delivered tearfully — was further fueled by the Oct. 22 protest outside the IPD headquarters, following what protesters saw as the wrongful arrest of Massia White-Saunders.
Officers arrested White-Saunders while he was protesting an event held by Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) to clean graffiti from the Oct. 16 demonstrations on charges of harassment. Officers accused White-Saunders of kicking a door.
White-Saunders and protesters at the event disputed this claim, saying that a supporter of President Donald Trump at Reed’s event threatened White-Saunders with a knife. Footage of the arrest also shows a Trump supporter yelling profanity at White-Saunders and the protesters.
After this first arrest, protesters marched from the Reed event — which was held outside the Tompkins County Republican storefront — to IPD headquarters downtown to demand the release of White-Saunders. Outside the headquarters, IPD Deputy Chief Vincent Monticello and one other officer arrested Rand for obstructing a police vehicle, and four officers arrested Dakota Ingraham, another protester.
IPD released White-Saunders and Ingraham from the headquarters, but as a crowd gathered to protest the ongoing custody of Rand, county and city police declared the protest an unlawful assembly and proceeded to make six arrests, arresting White-Saunders and Ingraham each a second time.
“The young people who were there had a right to be there. The police officers advanced on us to cause chaos,” said Melissa Lansing, a local resident. “That was a grotesque use of force.”
White-Saunders spoke to Common Council, echoing the frustration at the IPD’s crackdown on the protesters.
“What was done last Thursday was not right at all,” White-Saunders said, specifically calling out Monticello. Many residents pointed to the apparent racism displayed in the arrest of White-Saunders, who is Black, and the failure to arrest the aggressor, who was white.
“IPD will also be saving a lot of money if they get rid of deputy chief Motnicello who is a racist transphobic scum of a human being,” said Melanie Marsh to Common Council. According to Rand, who is a transgender woman, Monticello repeatedly misgendered her while she was in custody.
Since the Oct. 22 protest, Colton Bready posted a petition demanding the resignation of Monticello, which has received 1,411 signatures as of Oct. 29.
In response, Mayor Svante Myrick ‘09 wrote to the Ithaca Times, “Because there is significant public interest, and because transparency and accountability are the values of our organization, I’ve also invited the NYS Division of Human Rights and the NYS Attorney General to review the incidents on 10/22/20 from beginning to end. I will let you know if they accept that request.”
Common Council also voted to maintain a $48,211 aid package to Southside Community Center, maintaining the 2020 level of funding. Common Council members agreed that SCC is a crucial community asset, but lamented the constraints of the current budget deficit caused by COVID-19.
SCC recently paused operations, according to a statement from Nia Nunn, chair of the SCC board of directors. The organization’s executive director, Tammy Butler, resigned in early September to “explore other options,” according to The Ithaca Voice.