The Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition, a collection of progressive organizations and individuals active since 2020, opposes Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s “Reimagining Public Safety” initiative as an attempt to dilute and rebrand the grassroots demand for police defunding and community reinvestment.
While aspects of Myrick’s proposal appear progressive, the plan sidesteps the call to defund police—a central demand of the antiracist movement that arose last year after the brutal killing of George Floyd. Myrick’s proposal, which actually expands law enforcement budgets, seeks to reorganize policing instead of shifting real resources and power to vulnerable communities that are most in need of genuine safety and security.
Media coverage of the proposal has touted its seemingly bold elements, including unarmed officers, dismantling the current IPD structure, increased access to mental health services, and the mandate that IPD officers would have to reapply to a redesigned Public Safety department. However, Mayor Myrick’s assertion—not present in the proposal—that current officers would be rehired under his plan suggests that the plan’s objective is to reshuffle rather than defund or dissolve the IPD.
The proposal’s general ambiguity is troubling. We see no commitment to permanently terminate IPD officers who have abused and brutalized black community members and other targeted citizens. When questioned about this omission during a webinar that followed his proposal’s release, Myrick skirted the question, saying only that, “Accountability is very important to me.”
The main problem with this proposal is that it calls for INCREASING rather than reducing law enforcement budgets. The demands that crystallized last summer in the wake of the police killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others were to defund and even abolish the police. Policing as an institution is fundamentally shaped by white supremacy and capitalism. A real vision of public safety means reinvesting in the needs of our community—to name a few,
housing, dignified employment, childcare, and mental health and addiction services that are fully detached from the punitive mechanisms of criminal justice and law enforcement. The Myrick proposal cunningly reinforces the core logic of policing while expanding law enforcement personnel. Dubbing such officers “public safety workers” is a cynical marketing scheme. Additionally, we reject a $50,000 rebranding of the SWAT truck. Organizers have been demanding for years that the SWAT truck be transformed into a community resource such as a mobile health clinic, but this proposal instead invests significant money into making it over while its terrorizing purpose remains the same.
The proposal fails to specify the ratio of armed to unarmed officers. Nor does it specify the nature of the relationship between armed and unarmed personnel, and precisely how the two groups would coordinate in the context of routine and urgent responses. It remains unclear how officers—armed or unarmed—would be deployed to EMS calls. This ambiguity leaves ample room for the continuation of entrenched prejudices that have so often proved deadly for people of color and other vulnerable populations.
Disarming police is an important step toward real public safety. However, the deep ambiguities of the proposal make it impossible to determine whether the new Public Safety department would actually constitute a decrease or increase in the aggregate presence of law enforcement weapons and mechanisms of violence.
It is important to note that unarmed people DO harm Black, Indigenous and People of Color community members all the time. Nor is training the answer to racist police violence. Under the Mayor’s ”reimagined” police, just as under the current system, law enforcement personnel inevitably serve as the entry point into the mass incarceration regime. Police interactions are the first step into a system of racial control that routinely monitors, harasses, detains, incarcerates, and otherwise oppresses BIPOC people. Instead of reimagining, genuine defunding of police is crucial: we need a large-scale reinvestment away from policing and toward a true vision of anti-racism and community safety.
While we do not support the mayor’s vague and misleading proposal, we also forcefully reject the claim that the plan amounts to “union busting.” Those who weaponize support for organized labor to undermine grassroots demands for defunding and depolicing are opponents of BOTH racial justice AND genuine struggles for worker power.