Congratulations for your part in building toward the Durham we all deserve during this year’s municipal budgeting process! You and about 1500 of our Bull City neighbors were active participants in the 10 to Transform campaign with Durham Beyond Policing Coalition and Durham For All. Most of us have never had a say in our unjust economic system but we dove right in and we learned together during this budget cycle. Let’s celebrate at the 10 to Transform cookout on Sunday, June 27, 2021 from 4-6pm (location soon, please wear mask). Friends and families abundantly welcome.
Our goal for Durham County was to divest 10% from the County budget for jails and policing and invest it into mental healthcare. Last night, Monday, June 14, 2021 was the County Commissioners vote (and next Monday, June 21st will be the City Council vote). The five County Commissioners voted to pass the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget last night and we are so proud of how your hard work throughout the 10 to Transform campaign was reflected in the outcome.
Your advocacy pushed the Board of County Commissioners to unanimously agree to increase spending on mental health, a line item that has stagnated for years, through a million dollar investment in mental health services.
You raised critical questions, finally bringing the Sheriff into a transparent conversation about his budget that he has avoided for so long. We see this as groundwork for reduction of the harms of the jail and policing, though we didn’t see the reallocation of 48 vacancies from the Sheriff’s department and jail to expand mental healthcare access to Durham residents that we hoped for.
In the final stretches, Sheriff Birkhead waged a serious counter-organizing campaign against the 10 to Transform campaign. His office wielded the full weight of his positional power to dismiss our lived experiences, misrepresented our campaign aims in media outlets, flexed his connections with colleagues writing on their powerful institutions’ letterheads on the Sheriff’s department’s behalf (he sent these letters to us), all while spending public resources generated through our collective labor.
His efforts cannot erase our participation or undo the truth. We still urgently need to disentangle the criminal legal system from mental healthcare. We still need the existing mental healthcare systems to be bolstered further. We still need new programs and services to provide the additional capacity necessary to shift completely away from the jail and get us all the care we need after an incredibly challenging year. There is a long journey ahead until we’re all free and our families and communities are reunited.
In this budget cycle your work on the 10 to Transform campaign laid the foundation for action from the Board of County Commissioners. Over the next six months they have committed to a study of the County’s crisis response system and County 911 calls and mapping of existing resources and gaps. We’ll organize toward greater progress when they revisit the question of divesting from policing and investing in mental health and wellness in January or February, 2022.
The County Commissioners missed the present opportunity to decrease encounters with armed law enforcement or reallocate positions from the jail and increase access to mental health emergency response and public health. But the budget they approved last night has many other progressive investments that will make a big difference in strengthening and stabilizing our communities. Victories we’re celebrating in this year’s County budget include: the biggest investment we’ve ever seen in Durham Public Schools, including a massive Durham Association of Educators victory– school nurses and counselors for every school (first step towards a rollout over the next three years); the immigrant and refugee service coordinator position (jointly funded, City and County); the tax assistance grant program; Durham PreK expansion; workforce training initiatives through Durham Tech (including funding for stipends and social support for students); two additional positions for Racial Equity work, and an expansion of the Bull City United peer-to-peer violence interrupters outreach program.
Though Durham didn’t receive everything we hoped for, together we made serious gains that would not have been possible without joining forces. Through you volunteering in phone banking, we had over 700 conversations with Black people and people of color in Durham. Of those, over 70% supported the demands of the 10 to Transform Campaign at the end of the conversation. Your signatures on our letters made a difference– we were able to meet with City and County officials and share that we had 1,181 signatures calling for divestment from policing and investment in mental health and compassionate crisis response. Whether you spoke truth to power at public hearings, submitted written public comments, or showed up for public events (campaign kick off on April 27th and town hall with County and City electeds on May 20th) your contribution showed our collective strength and named our shared vision.
For years, Durham Beyond Policing and Durham For All have been in deep conversations with thousands of Black and POC residents of Durham, over the phone or at our neighbors’ doors. The 10 to Transform campaign grew out of these conversations with Durham residents, particularly Black and POC communities, who are tired of living in fear. We are invested in and committed to building a movement that fights for our collective liberation and everyone’s undeniable right to safety, care, and belonging.
During the 10 to Transform campaign, in our conversations with electeds we heard loud and clear that fear of rising gun violence in Durham is preventing some of them from feeling enthusiastic towards building alternatives to policing. We mourn and grieve devastating deaths due to gun violence in our communities. We take this grief seriously and rely on existing research and evidence in addressing such an important issue. The myth that the uptick in crime or gun violence can be addressed by increased policing runs counter to the evidence: Laura Cooper, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents police executives in the U.S. and Canada and compiles data across member cities, shared with The Daily Beast that their data shows violent crime increased in the first quarter of 2021, regardless of whether cities increased or decreased their police budgets.
Police and sheriff’s deputies do not prevent harm from occurring. While jails provide punishment and isolation from communities, they do not deter criminalized behavior. As put forth by crime experts at the University of Chicago and New York University, community institutions and care workers, such as public schools, libraries, recreation centers, social workers and therapists, are all associated with deterring criminalized behavior.
According to the Durham County Crisis Intervention Team, people suffering from mental health struggles often end up staying in Durham County Jail longer and more frequently than others. During a recent work session, Sheriff Birkhead described himself as Durham’s greatest mental health provider. If true, this is our collective failure. Therapeutic support and mental health crisis intervention must be available for Durham residents to access by calling mobile mental health care providers and gaining access to non-jailing facilities, rather than by calling the police or sheriff. We all deserve free or minimal cost access to high-quality mental healthcare as well as access to ongoing therapy and counseling in places that are safe and promote wellness, not punishment and disposability.
The most recent movement to divest from policing and invest in community care in Durham is now five years old. Every year since 2016, we have come forward to local governments with petitions, proposals, public comments and large-scale support for funding the institutions and resources that have a direct connection to public safety and wellness. We’ve made important strides together. We’ve established a Community Safety and Wellness Task Force connecting the city, county, and the public schools. We now have a Department of Safety and Wellness in our City government. We have increased investments in eviction diversion and ensured living wages for all city workers. The pandemic demonstrated more than anything the importance of mutual aid, mental healthcare, and care work to keep people alive and safe. We are asking you to help us build safety based on the model of our community institutions, not policing and jails.
We will continue listening to and inviting in poor and working class, Black and POC communities of Durham, honoring all the nuance, complexities, and beauty that our communities hold. As members of groups and organizations that supported and endorsed the Sheriff based on his progressive visions during his campaign, we will continue demanding transparency and justice.
Let’s keep up the good work! Save the date for the 10 to Transform cookout celebration on Sunday, June 27, 2021 from 4-6pm. To stay involved in future work with Durham For All, please become a member or join our email list. To stay involved in future work with Durham Beyond Policing, please become a member, sign up to receive our newsletter, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, or make a donation to sustain the work.
Until we all get free,
AJ, Danielle, and Manju on behalf of Durham Beyond Policing coalition
Kaji, Nahid, Ociele, Shanise, and Anthony on behalf of Durham For All