Activists in Boise, Idaho have organized a series of protests against the City’s recent decision to increase the police budget in a 4-2 vote. The new budget increases police spending by $1.1 million. Local organizers, activist groups, and community members have been demonstrating with a variety of tactics to oppose Boise’s new budget ever since it was first proposed.
BLM Boise was founded in May 2020 in response to George Floyd’s killing at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. The organization planned a number of demonstrations this summer, and it was responsible for starting a petition to oppose the City’s new budget, demanding instead that the City invest in underfunded programs such as affordable housing, housing for the homeless, mental health services, substance abuse care, and community engagement. In-spite of this petition gathering more than 4,100 signatures in less than 2 months, the City refused to acknowledge the petition, even when BLM Boise led a large march to City Hall to hand these signatures in-person. BLM Boise wrote, “It is a travesty that the Boise City Council voted 4-2 to approve Mayor McLean’s 2021 City Budget Proposal, which actually enlarges the police budget,” underscoring that the City refuses to listen to the voices of the people in these historic times of unrest.
Peaceful Roots of Change was also founded this summer in response to George Floyd’s killing and has been enthusiastically organizing actions and coalition-building in the months that have followed. Their most recent demonstrations have been in direct response to the City Council’s vote to increase the police budget beyond its already-bloated allotment of city funds. At their first protest of this kind, they drew chalk outlines of fallen bodies – each chalk body representing 100 lives, illustrating the 1,099 lives taken by the police in 2019 alone – on the public sidewalks in front of the home of City Council member Elaine Clegg. They said of the demonstration: “We stood in front of Elaine Clegg’s home to make a statement about her police budget decision and to pressure her to change her mind and hear our voices.”
This protest was peaceful in nature and resulted in no damage to property, yet Clegg called the police on the organizers, and later said she would like to use the chalk bodies as a game of “hopscotch” for her grandchildren. This statement shows stark disregard for the lives that each body was meant to represent.
Yet the protests have continued. In the most recent demonstration, organizers returned to the houses of City Council members who voted in favor of the police budget increase: Elaine Clegg, TJ Thomson, Holli Woodings, and Patrick Bageant. Instead of drawing bodies, they drew butterflies and – in front of Clegg’s home – a 138-square long hopscotch game to represent the 138 Idahoan citizens that have died by police brutality.
The City has increased the police budget in order to add new police officers, which they describe as part of a multiyear strategy to fortify the Boise Police Department in order to keep up with the city’s explosive growth. Meanwhile, the Office of Police Oversight has had its budget decreased for the past 4 years, including in the budget currently in question. While 28.8 cents out of every tax dollar goes to the police department, only 0.1 cents goes to police oversight.
Barely over a week after the new police budget passed, three Boise police officers shot and killed 58-year-old Arthur Zalman Ferrel in his home. This was the second time Boise police officers have killed someone within a year; in October, they killed Amber Lea DeWitt, 33, near Veterans Memorial Park. Boise is a city undergoing rapid gentrification, where poorer classes of society are removed to make way for richer elements. The police exist to maintain stability for the capitalist state. Boise’s increasing police budget reflects this reality. The essence of the police cannot be reformed. No law or executive order can change the fundamental class character of police from institutions on the side of the capitalists to institutions on the side of the poor, working class and oppressed.
BLM Boise, Peaceful Roots of Change, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and countless other organizers and activist groups in Boise continue to organize against police terror. More and more people who have taken to the streets are concluding that it’s not the politicians, but rather sustained action and working-class organization that will result in the power and strength needed to create the just system we deserve.
The City Council passing this new budget has made it clear that our demands have gone unheard. All of us, now, are prepared to be louder.