F.I. Goldhaber

Voices of the Unheard

(Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash)

Elected officials invite voters to attend “hearings” about how they should spend taxpayers’ money, but then never listen to what their constituents say.

 

June. Midsummer. Pride Month. And, for many jurisdictions, the month to pass an annual budget.

Overwhelmingly, those budgets prove that elected officials do not listen when they invite their constituents to attend “hearings” about how they should spend taxpayers’ money. We saw it in their faces on Zoom. We watched them turning off cameras, eating their lunch, sending texts, driving, or, in the ultimate message about how much value they put on their constituents’ opinions, relieving themselves.

They don’t listen. They just nod.

This month, city after city and county after county are following the example set by the U.S. government and even the most “progressive” states when approving their budgets. Either they have unconditionally retreated or completely circumvented any political promises to protesters that they would reduce police funding. They continue to pour billions of dollars—often at the expense of key government programs, mental health services, education, housing, etc.—into the always gaping, never appeased, maw of police/sheriff/trooper budgets to the benefit of almost no one except those wearing the uniforms/badges.

In Minneapolis, where the city council promised to replace the police department with a public safety department after a cop, with three others watching, murdered George Floyd, voted instead to spend $6.4 million to hire dozens of officers  while the police chief coordinated with public relations professionals to protect his budget.

In the U.S. Congress, the so-called George Floyd Act, which would not have saved George Floyd’s life, hands $750 million more to police. “Protesters have been demanding to defund the police to keep us safe; not spend millions of dollars to investigate how we die. We know how we die—the police.”

In cities around the world, millions of people took to the streets over the summer to protest police brutality and abuse. Across the United States, hundreds of municipal, county, and state governments held hearings during which thousands of people demanded they stop militarizing law enforcement (which neither reduces crime nor increases officer safety) and slash police budgets.

 

Across the United States, hundreds of municipal, county, and state governments held hearings during which thousands of people demanded they stop militarizing law enforcement … and slash police budgets. … Every single elected body then ignored their constituents to one degree or another.

 

Every single elected body then ignored their constituents to one degree or another. Instead, they listened to the lies pushed by slave patrols police officials and the associations that represent them about how they cannot provide what they call public safety without more funds and complete immunity for the crimes they commit while on duty.

Except police define “public safety” as protecting property owned by the wealthy, the corporations, the privileged. As anyone who does not fit into those categories and has had their house burgled, their car stolen, their wallet/identify lifted will report, the police do nothing to prevent or solve the crimes they are victims of. Those who are beaten, raped, murdered—even when the police are not the ones committing the offenses—rarely receive assistance from cops. Police certainly do not prevent any of those crimes. They often enable them by ignoring complaints of violence committed by white people against those who have dark skin, speak a foreign language, wear religious clothing, are not straight, etc.

At best, the cops might arrest someone after someone has been crippled, traumatized, killed; coerce a confession from them; and close the case. Whether or not the person arrested was the actual perpetrator does not matter much to them. Especially if that person is Black, brown, or Indigenous; houseless; consumed drugs at any time in their life; shoplifted groceries when they were hungry; painted some graffiti art; or once got a speeding ticket. Those demographics and behaviors make anyone arrested for any reason a criminal who should be locked up for life according to cops who routinely consume drugs stolen from suspects and evidence rooms, pilfer millions of dollars from innocent civilians through forfeiture, vandalize vehicles at protests and through malicious traffic stops, ignore all traffic laws, and commit a multitude of other crimes.

And the refusal of elected and appointed officials to listen to their constituents is not limited to police funding. A few examples:

 

  • The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), ignoring all data proving that building more freeways does not decrease traffic congestion and tolling the highway creates traffic problems on surface streets, is pushing both agendas despite the objections of everyone in the city of Portland (except, of course, the contractors and developers who stand to make millions). Meanwhile, people continue to die on Portland streets classified as state highways that “ODOT refuses to fix with basic safety measures.”
  • Missouri lawmakers, claiming “voters didn’t understand the potential cost,” are sabotaging a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution which would have given thousands of low-income adults access to health insurance.
  • In Florida, voters passed a constitutional amendment aimed at allowing felons who have served their sentences to vote. Lawmakers immediately circumvented voters by requiring felons to pay “legal financial obligations” before their rights could be restored. In addition, Florida Republicans are now trying to prevent ballot-initiative drives by restricting fundraising capabilities.
  • People in the three-county (Washington, Multnomah, and Clackamas) Portland metropolitan area demanded transit police be defunded and that money used to eliminate fares. Instead, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office took command of TriMet’s Transit Police after Portland Police Bureau participation was withdrawn by the city council.
  • Idaho voters passed a ballot initiative to accept federal funds for Medicaid expansion. Not only did Idaho’s legislators attempt to prevent state residents from receiving benefits, in retribution they also worked to curtail the ballot initiative process.
  • South Dakota state legislators repealed voter-approved restrictions on campaign finance and lobbying.
  • Sheriffs in 20 of Washington’s 39 counties are refusing to enforce restrictions on access to and use of so-called assault weapons which were overwhelmingly approved by voters.
  • State legislators in Utah overhauled both medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion bills drafted and supported by voters.
  • After collecting hours upon hours of video showing that Portland Police routinely and brutally attack peaceful protesters and journalists with weapons of war (attacks which have already resulted in at least one settlement with the city with multiple additional lawsuits filed) and numerous complaints about “peace police” telling other protesters how they should behave, the city of Portland decided to spend thousands of dollars on “conflict resolution training for … the protesters.”

 

Since voters making their opinions known via the ballot box, initiative petitions, and public “hearings” are getting between elected officials and their donors, the obvious solution for elected officials is to eliminate the ability of many of those people to vote. Almost 400 voter suppression bills have been put before legislatures in all but two of the “united” states just this year.

Those elected officials have made it clear that it does not matter to them what the vast majority of citizens wants. They are elected to represent a small minority dedicated to sustaining white supremacy and the privileges it grants them. Clinging to power, the wealthy, the corporations, the privileged, and their elected toadies will do everything to retain it.

Voting, testifying at public hearings, initiatives, petitions, and letter writing campaigns will not change that.

“There are many in our community that want to pretend last year did not happen,” Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty told a group of protesters memorializing George Floyd on May 22, 2021. “That it was a bad dream … and they just want to wake up and go back to normal. I refuse to go back to an unjust normal.”

It is going to be a very long, very hot summer.

 

(#BlackLivesMatter protest, photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash)

 

F.I. Goldhaber

F.I. Goldhaber's words capture people, places, and politics with a photographer's eye and a poet's soul. As a reporter, editor, business writer, and marketing communications consultant, they produced news stories, feature articles, editorial columns, and reviews for newspapers, corporations, governments, and non-profits in five states. Now paper, electronic, and audio magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, broadsides, and street signs display their poetry, fiction, and essays.

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