The Philadelphia arm of the Black Lives Matter movement has called for the “complete abolition” of the police department in five years, the scrapping of military bases abroad and build social work from the ground up to tackle problems in the community.
For more than a month, in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has called for sweeping changes across the country in the bid to end racial injustices. At the heart of the debate, is the campaign to defund – or dismantle – police departments.
And according to BLM Philadelphia representative and activist YahNé Ndgo, the chapter has developed a five-year plan to do just that.
“One of the things that we are demanding over five years is the complete abolition. We don’t want to see any police in our community,” Ndgo told Fox News in an interview Tuesday. “Over the course of those five years, it gives time for the community to begin to build what is needed. We aren’t looking to leave any kind of vacancy around the issue of safety.”
From her purview, one of the main factors leading to crime is poverty and hunger – which in turn drives drug use and drug-related crimes.
“A lot of the drug use is also a way that individuals are seeking to manage the trauma that comes from being significantly impoverished and consistently scrutinized and constantly harassed and having lack of opportunity, a lack of access to opportunity,” Ndgo stressed. “And so as we address these particular concerns, and at the same time build restorative justice practices, and build out our mental health response teams, and build medic responses. Responses that really actually deal with the issues that are in place. Then we will have less crime anyway.”
The intention is to build those apparatus from “the ground up within the community,” using the money that would have otherwise been poured into the city’s police department.
“People call 911 for a variety of reasons. A lot of times, the police show up for mental health disturbances, for example. There are plenty of people who have been murdered as a result of (these) mental health checks. The police came, and then they murdered the person, even though the person was acting erratically, which is what you would expect of a person who’s having a mental health crisis,” Ndgo continued.
“Domestic confrontations are also things that police are often called for. And these are kinds of situations that can be handled by different kinds of professionals. As it relates to more violent crime, there would still be trained individuals who are prepared to handle those kinds of situations. They just would not be individuals who are trained through a police program.”
In contending that the history of the police is “centered around the ruling class and protection of the ruling class and being an extension of the system of oppression,” Ngdo claims that police have done little to make communities safer.
“Quite often, if there is violence happening, by the time the police arrive, that has already occurred and particularly in poor neighborhoods and in black and brown communities. So the police are not really a resource for preventing that kind of crime from happening. Just a response,” she explained. “And there was a large period of time when black communities were not even able to call the police. The police only existed for wealthy white communities. And the communities were safer when that was not the case when we couldn’t call the police because our care and the care of the communities was the responsibility of the communities. We have to take care of our people.”
Moreover, the Philadelphia-based activist believes that violence exists on a multitude of levels, not just stemming from law enforcement.
“We also recognize that hunger, unnecessary hunger, is a form of unnecessary homelessness (especially) when you have massive numbers of properties that are empty, and then we have people who are all over the city. We see that also as violence,” Ndgo said. “Another example is the fact that a lot of our schools are not safe for our children. There is led pipes in a lot of the schools. So students are being expected to learn in environmentally hazardous places, those are things that we see as violence.”
She pointed out that while the BLM wing is beginning the process of addressing and making these demands to the city, they are presented with government promises she calls a sort of “smoke and mirrors.”
“(The administration wants) to come across as if (they are) responding to the demands that people are making, but they’re not genuine responses,” Ngdo said. “An example is one of (our) demands to decrease the police budget.”
She points to an earlier proposal to increase the police budget by $14 million, but rather than affirm cuts to the existing budget, officials instead purported to resolve the matter by only denying the funding increase.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, $19 million had been earmarked to bolster the police department, but in response to the unrest last month, canceled the increase and moved $14 million elsewhere.
BLM Philadelphia also wants to see changes on a federal level. Ngdo said that the President has the authority to call in the National Guard irrespective of whether the governors or mayors approve it, a power they view as perpetrating “danger and harm”.
“You see now, the President can have any kind of mindset. And then (they) have a local military force at his or her disposal in order to push that mindset onto communities,” Ngdo cautioned. “That would be one thing really important, to transform that policy.”
She also stressed that another critical change would be for the “federal government to actually prioritize is the financial discrepancies and inequities in all of our communities.”
“There’s a massive shift in wealth,” Ngdo said. “The wealth of the nation is very much into the hands of a very small group of people. And the result of that is a massive amount of poverty and poverty, as often, as I mentioned earlier, is a big reason that a lot of crime happens.”
The chapter envisions programs led by the Department of Defense – including the 1033 program which “takes military-grade equipment and transfers it into local police departments,” as well as the Trump administration’s 2019 Relentless Pursuit program that gives funding to local police departments – coming to an end.
“It just increases the resources to these police terror groups. And so shifting those resources from that, you have these federal resources that are being used in these ways that could easily be shifted into the communities to address these issues around poverty,” Ngdo underscored. “War is another massive way that the federal government uses resources that should be used to benefit the citizens here, implementing war programs all around the world, maintaining all of these bases.”
She underlined that “there are over 800 U.S. military bases around the world,” in addition to the Pentagon’s AFRICOM program, “which puts military bases in almost every country on the African continent.”
According to Pentagon maps published by The Intercept in February, there appears to be U.S. bases on 29 of the 54 countries that make up Africa.
“(Defunding) these particular programs would provide massive amounts of resources for the communities in the United States, and that would mitigate most of the problems that create the so-called problem of crime,” Ngdo proposed.
In terms of BLM Philadelphia itself, Ngdo didn’t specify exact membership numbers but observed that the group is made up of a number of educators from elementary to university level and that everyone has a different focus – with children’s safety and education at the hub of their discussions and policy proposals – and they routinely connect with other chapters nationwide.
And despite the unrest of the past few weeks, Ngdo is optimistic that real change is on the horizon – exemplified by the recent bringing down of the statue commemorating former police commissioner Frank Rizzo, who she defined as “very aggressive, very racist and very violent” in his response to Black communities.
“Of course, it is symbolic, but it was something that felt good to see. At the same time, we also I would also say that a massive win is just the sense that is happening emotionally in the community. Of course, there is the pain and the trauma that comes from the ongoing violence that we’ve experienced. But there is also the hope that people have as a result of this ongoing state of rebellion, that people have finally reached their limit,” she observed.