“A budget is a moral document.”
The saying is so common these days as to feel cliched, yet it bears repeating. The budgets we set and approve reflect our values, our priorities and our aspirations.
Perhaps we did not recognize it at the time, but the values set in the Town of Chapel Hill were made clear to us from the very beginning. Here in our hometown, where neighbors proudly ascribe to tolerance, liberalism and progressive ideals, police officers patrol the hallways of our schools from middle school onwards. Those very same halls foster the second-largest achievement gap in the country between white students and their Black and Latinx peers. Our neighborhoods are segregated and complicit in the stark racial wealth gap across the United States that causes Black families to own just one cent for every dollar in wealth held by white families. In short, our town espouses grand morals. But look to its budget, and you’ll find a different story.
If the past weeks have proven anything, it’s that the police system is overwhelmingly escalatory and militarized. Even more damning, the institution itself is a direct descendant of vicious slave patrols and a continued manifestation of anti-Black racism. And yet, in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other Black Americans at the hands of the police, the Town of Chapel Hill is proposing to maintain the police as the largest expenditure in next year’s budget.
Twenty-four percent of the proposed FY 2020-21 general funds budget is dedicated to the police department, while a shameful 1 percent is devoted to Housing & Community. This is especially disturbing given the increasing problem of gentrification and homelessness throughout Chapel Hill, a problem that cannot be untied from the foundational evils of housing segregation and anti-Black racism throughout the South.