John Legend, Common, the Weeknd, Lizzo, Jane Fonda, and others have signed a new open letter urging local governments to decrease police budgets in favor of spending more on health care, education, and other community programs. Others to sign the letter include Megan Rapinoe, Yada Shahidi, and Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU.
The letter was released by activist Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and a founding member of the Movement 4 Black Lives, a coalition of more than 100 black-rights organizations. The letter arrives in conjunction with #BlackOutTuesday and #TheShowMustBePaused, a grassroots campaign within the music industry to pause work today, June 2nd, and “reconnect with our community.” Talib Kweli, Natalie Portman, America Ferrera, Brie Larson, and Taraji P. Henson also signed on to support the letter.
The open letter ties the deaths of unarmed black people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others to the disproportionately devastating effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on black communities. “The COVID-19 deaths and the deaths caused by police terror are connected and consequential to each other,” it states. “The United States does not have a national healthcare system. Instead, we have the largest military budget in the world, and some of the most well-funded and militarized police departments in the world, too. Policing and militarization overwhelmingly dominate the bulk of national and local budgets. In fact, police and military funding has increased every single year since 1973, and at the same time, funding for public health decreased every year, crystallized most recently when the Trump administration eliminated the U.S. Pandemic Response Team in 2018, citing ‘costs.'”
Noting, for instance, that state and local government spending on police and corrections jumped from $60 billion to $194 billion between 1977 and 2017, the letter lays out an array of different ways that money could be used. “It could go towards building healthy communities, to the health of our elders and children, to neighborhood infrastructure, to education, to childcare, to support a vibrant Black future. The possibilities are endless.”
At the end, the letter lays out its three demands and asks all signees to encourage their local officials to take the pledge as well: “Vote no on all increases to police budgets. Vote yes to decrease police spending and budgets. Vote yes to increase spending on Health care, Education, and Community programs that keep us safe.”