2021 City Budget Talks Place Focus on ‌Evanston‌ ‌Police‌ ‌Department‌


Izzy Basso

Chalk-out at a Reclaim the Block party.

Sari Oppenheimer, Assistant News Editor

The day after George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis, protesters began flooding the streets across the country, including in Evanston, calling for justice and a defunding of the police. 

Since the initial call to action, Evanston Fight for Black Lives (EFBL) has been spearheading the fight to defund the Evanston Police Department (EPD) and raise awareness of the systemic racism in the city. 

“We’re an abolitionist organization, and so the point is to make sure that Black folks are not only surviving, but they are living and thriving and loving and laughing and dancing and moving and just being without the fear that someone or some system can take that away from them at a moment’s notice,” Nia Williams, an organizer with EFBL, said. 

The organization is focusing on different action steps that add to the movement to defund the EPD. From June 15 to June 19, the organization posted its first week of action on Instagram, which was designed to engage people in conversations and involve them in defunding the police. 

In the months that followed, EFBL has continued to hold peaceful protests, community discussions and Sunday “Reclaim the Block Party” events outside the EPD from 12–2 p.m. 

In addition to the physical presence of the organization, EFBL has come up with a set of demands in regard to the EPD.

“Defund EPD by 75 percent, have a committee of civilians and aldermen by Sept. 21, 2020. This subcommittee needs to hold meetings once a week from the [Sept. 21] to [Nov. 23]. We demand all complaints by citizens against any and all police officers be made available to that committee,” Williams described.

In the 2020 budget year for the City of Evanston, the police department expenses came to a total of $41,131,727, 35 percent of general fund expenses. In comparison, other departments such as fire or parks and recreation only made up 22 percent and 10 percent respectively.

The demands made by EFBL to cut the police budget by 75 percent would mean reducing their expenses by $30,848,795. The hope is that these funds would be reallocated to other areas within the city budget.

“When we talk about defunding the police, it’s about how we allocate resources. So the City Council has to determine what that reallocation looks like,” Kimberly Richardson, Interim Assistant City Manager said. 

The main idea of the reallocation of resources from the police is that communities and areas around Evanston would have the resources to grow and thrive.   

“One example for students was something called Project EXCITE at Northwestern, which was a course to prepare minority students for high school level math and science,” Mikaéla Parisien, ETHS senior and organizer with EFBL, said. “It was specifically minority students who may not have access to those kinds of courses and those kinds of classes at that level. But they didn’t have enough funds, so the whole course ended last year. They’re trying to get it back up, but they don’t have the proper funding.”

In addition to discussions of defunding the EPD, the budget plan for 2021 has to take into account the impact of COVID-19. Due to the loss of revenue since the shutdown began, the City has an expected revenue loss between $5 million and $7 million. 

“We see in the short period of time of our kind of reopening what our bounce back revenue looks like, and then we try to be more conservative and put our revenue down to a more of a conservative amount so that we’re not overestimating, just in case that revenue doesn’t come in,” Richardson said.

Budget proposals for 2021 have not yet begun, but with the growing momentum of the defund EPD movement, discussions around defunding the EPD can be expected to occur as the planning process advances. 

Defunding the EPD involves focusing on community policing and building relationships within Evanston. The model of community policing outlined in a plan from EFBL places emphasis on the members of the community and ensures accountability instead of focusing on the arrests. 

“I’ve always been a firm believer in community policing and having relationships with people and community members here in Evanston,” said EPD Commander Brian Henry. “I think the more positive interactions we have with people, the better it is for everyone. I think that that’s something, in its entirety, that law enforcement needs to accept.”

Now, after almost four months since the initial calls to defund the EDP, the work being done around the country and the necessary movements happening in Evanston are still just as important as when they began. 

“I cannot say this enough, how necessary this work is. It’s amazing that a lot of high school students are involved in this work, but I think that there could always be so many more people involved and doing more. There’s never a stopping point like, ‘Oh, I’m doing enough,’” Parisien said. “Because we’re trying to dismantle this system so there’s no “enough”, there’s no being like ‘Okay I did and now I’m done,’ there’s always work. There’s always a fight that you can tackle.”