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Beverly, Mt. Greenwood, Morgan Park

Should Chicago Defund The Police? Alderman In Police-Heavy Ward Wants Voters To Decide

Under Ald. Matt O'Shea's proposal, the police budget could never be cut below $1.8 billion without a binding referendum approved by Chicago voters.

Police attempt to clear protesters onto the sidewalks in Lincoln Park as another night of chaos hit Chicago, Illinois on May 31, 2020. | Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Police attempt to clear protesters onto the sidewalks in Lincoln Park during a protest on Sunday.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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BEVERLY — For nearly three weeks, Chicagoans have taken to the streets by the thousands to protest police brutality and call on the city to defund the police department.

But an ordinance introduced by Southwest Side Ald. Matthew O’Shea (19th) Wednesday aims to make it harder for the city to defund Chicago Police. Under O’Shea’s push, the department’s budget could never be cut below the $1.8 billion it received in 2020 without a binding referendum approved by Chicago voters.

In a letter to 19th ward residents, O’Shea said the police killing of George Floyd was a “terrible, inexcusable tragedy,” but he doesn’t support a reduction in funding, saying it would make the city less safe.

“I oppose a reduction in police manpower. Additionally, I believe decisions as significant as this one should be decided by the voters, not by elected officials,” he said, “Empowering voters on this issue is the fairest and most democratic approach we can take.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) attends the Committee on Finance meeting on March 12, 2020.

He could not immediately be reached for comment on the ordinance.

O’Shea’s ward includes Mt. Greenwood, Morgan Park and Beverly, home to many city employees including police officers.

The Mt. Greenwood neighborhood was mentioned in a speech by rapper Rhymefest at a June 6 protest march through the Chatham neighborhood, where he said an “overhaul” — not reform — of the department was needed.

“Black communities are policed by people that live in Mt. Greenwood…,” he said. “From now on we only need police from the indigenous community. We don’t want you if we don’t know you, we don’t want you if we ain’t grow up with you. If you can’t take care of us like family, you ain’t family.”

O’Shea’s measure was introduced on a day City Hall was surrounded by protesters, which could be heard at times during the virtual meeting as Mayor Lori Lightfoot presided over the meeting from her 5th floor office.

Lightfoot has rejected calls to defund the department.

“I think the people in our neighborhoods who want and have been begging for more police support, in light of what’s happened over the last couple days, it would be irresponsible for me to entertain any idea that we would cut back,” the mayor has said.

O’Shea is an ally to Lightfoot, who appointed him as chairman of the influential Committee on Aviation.

Block Club previously reported at least nine aldermen support cutting some portion of the departments budget to expand social services in the city, but they acknowledge they face an uphill battle to reduce the budget without Lightfoot on board.

RELATED: As Cities Across The Country Slash Police Funding, It’s Unlikely To Happen In Chicago With Mayor Not On Board, Aldermen Say

The ordinance was referred to the Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a 26-year veteran and former Chicago Police sergeant. But Taliaferro told Block Cub the ordinance “definitely will not be” on the July 8 agenda of the committee.

“I’ve not seen his legislation yet, but I definitely look forward to reading it and discussing it with him,” he said.

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