Community members and leaders joined Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 and Tompkins County County Administrator Jason Molino on Thursday, responding to questions and concerns about the proposal to replace the Ithaca Police Department with both unarmed and armed workers.
Since the proposal intended to focus on the experiences of Black communities, the Black Town Hall became integral to the feedback process.
Most of the meeting focused on the impact of the proposal, and whether its reccomendations go far enough to address issues of racial profiling and systemic racism in the Ithaca Police Department.
Throughout the meeting, participants cited examples of police violence, mentioning the prosecution of Rose DeGroat in April 2019, who was charged with second-degree attempted assault and obstructing governmental administration — before videos that contradicted parts of the officer’s account emerged. Her case was eventually dismissed.
Nicole Lafave, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter Ithaca, spoke about her previous experience on the Community Police Board, which reviews complaints and provides findings and recommendations to the IPD. Lafave expressed her doubts about the effectiveness of the proposed additional racial bias training.
“We had folks come up and do this hill training with IPD about racial profiling and implicit bias and having sit in that two day session,” Lafave said. “There was a lot of pushback from IPD around implicit bias, it being real.”
Prof. Russell Rickford, history, said he also had doubts about the effectiveness of the proposal. Referring back to Black Lives Matter protests in the summer over the police killing of George Floyd, he reminded the attendees that the movement called for defunding the police, not simply rebranding.
“The primary demand was not different policing. It was less policing, defunding and de-policing [that] remained the primary goals,” said Rickford, who is a member of Democratic Socialists of America and Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition. “People recognized that police cannot reform themselves. The institution of policing itself is rottened.”
Myrick said funding social programs will better reduce crime, compared to funding more crime prevention. Since communities can only raise funds through property and sales taxes, universities can help communities raise their tax base — as they have large amounts of resources, but are otherwise exempt from local property taxes.
Myrick emphasized that taking all of the funds from the police department and spending them on social services would not be enough to support programs like universal healthcare, education and affordable housing. While the proposal will reallocate the police department’s budget in the restructuring, it does not call to reduce the budget itself.
Rickford disputed Myrick’s claim that the IPD’s budget was not sufficient to support more programs for the Ithaca community, saying that $12 million, the police department’s budget, is not a “drop in the bucket” and is a good start.
Myrick responded to Rickford by mentioning that Cornell has a $7 billion endowment, saying that it can be better used to support the people locally, rather than simply accumulating interest in the back account.
Prof. Sean Eversley Bradwell, education, Ithaca College who helped create the report, responded to those who criticized the proposal for not going far enough. Compared to other draft reports created in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s June Executive Order 203 — which called for municipalities with police forces to review their policies and practices — Bradwell said Ithaca is leading the nation. But he said that isn’t enough.
“The bar is so low, that we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back for doing anything,” Bradwell said. “I’m aware that what we are presenting is in some regards a low bar, and I’m also aware that for Jason and Svante, they’re gonna have a hard time getting this passed with their legislative bodies.”
Not all participants were unhappy with the proposal. Charles Rhody, a community figure who runs Southside’s Food Pantry, defended Myrick.
“All I have to say is, let the man do his job and trust the progress,” Rhody said.