PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A couple hundred people filled Burnside Park Wednesday evening, demanding the Providence Police Department be defunded.
Organizers of the rally told Eyewitness News they hope the city decides to reallocate the police department’s $85 million in funding to support other sectors of the community.
“There has to be a fundamental change in the way police are policing us,” Malchus Mills, of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), said. “We’re tired of trying to talk about it. It’s time to make the change. We know what we need to do.”
Protester Yojaida Heredia said reallocating police department funding is just the beginning.
“I think that allocating the funds and disbanding the police entirely all comes together for the abolishment of police,” she said. “Putting those funds into our schools, affordable housing, into our food, and then hopefully making this community a place where we don’t have the need for police.”
The union representing the city’s police officers — the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 — is firmly against any decrease in funding, arguing that it would increase crime.
“We believe there needs to be more funds allocated to our police department budget for additional training and equipment in order to provide the best service to our community,” the union said in a statement.
Protester Elaina Scorpio said if police departments were dismantled, it would allow the community to create its own form of law enforcement.
“Neighborhood organizations who know the neighborhood – who have the trust of the neighborhood,” she suggested.
In 2017, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza signed a community-police relations act into law, which in part, prohibits police from relying on race, ethnicity or political affiliations as a reason to suspect someone of committing a crime.
The Providence City Council Finance Committee took up the idea to defund the police department through a public “webinar” Wednesday night, where one by one, community members testified on their experience with police brutality, fear of police and effects of incarceration.
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said while changes to the department’s policies are needed, completely abolishing the police department would “create chaos and lawlessness.”
“I know there’s frustration, there’s anger,” Pare said. “There’s a lot during these times that we need to change systematically. We need to take ownership of the past to correct the system going forward.”