A week before George Floyd was killed, Jane Nguyen created a bar graph. Nguyen, co-founder of Ktown for All, an activist group that advocates for the homeless, plugged numbers into Excel from the budget that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti released a few weeks earlier. City spending on housing appeared on Nguyen’s graph as a sliver compared to over $3 billion going to the Los Angeles Police Department — 54% of all discretionary spending — which she considered an “obscene amount,” NBC News reported.
Municipal government budgets are usually an “obscure, niche, boring” topic, Nguyen conceded, but when she placed the numbers in a chart, “I think it’s so visually impactful — you see why our society is so messed up just from that graph.”
Under Garcetti’s budget, most city agencies faced cuts to deal with the economic downturn, but police were slated to get a boost, including a $41 million bonus package arranged with the police union. Garcetti defended the cuts to other agencies, including the transportation, cultural affairs and parks departments, as necessary given the economic conditions.
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Outraged that Garcetti’s budget prioritized police over social programs, Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles gathered several local activist groups, including Ktown for All, in early May to create their own budget proposal, based on surveys of thousands of Angelenos. They called it the “People’s Budget,” and emphasized allocations for housing and mental health services, while cutting police to 5.7 percent of spending. They also organized hundreds of residents to flood the City Council meeting’s online public comment session.
However, City Council members largely ignored their proposal, Nguyen said, and there was little coverage of the People’s Budget in the media — until racial justice protests sparked by Floyd’s death took over the streets.