My name is Rebecca Ennen and I live in Petworth in Ward 4. I have been involved in DC local issues since I moved here in 2010 through Jews United for Justice, both on staff and as a volunteer. I have watched for the last decade as this city has struggled to be a city for all its residents, not just the wealthy. In particular I have watched the Council and Mayor, every year, go through a budget process where various programs that are critical to the well-being of our residents were defunded and only sometimes refunded. In all those years our budget for policing has grown steadily with no hint of change.
I support the recommendations made by Black Lives Matter DC, ACLU-DC, DC Justice Lab, DC Working Families Party, HIPS, Metro DC DSA, Defender Impact Initiative, and others, and urge the Council to adopt them. I specifically thank Stop Police Terror Project and Black Swan Academy for their detailed and visionary work. I am not an expert and can only add my voice to theirs.
I am an upper middle class white woman. I have two children, one a DCPS student and one a baby. I want what my neighbors across this city want, whether we’re Black, white, or brown: to have a vibrant, generous, connected community where everyone is safe and cared for. The police who are entrusted to serve and protect us all, are not doing that. They target, detain, harass, and kill Black residents. Meanwhile, people like me are fed a lie: that we are unsafe without police. Specifically, the subtext is that we are not safe from Black people without police.
I reject this lie and I see through it to the people earning money off white fear and the brutalization of Black people and communities: the private prison profiteers, the sellers of military weapons and surveillance technology, and the politicians and government officials they buddy up with to keep our tax dollars flowing to their pockets. They are relying on white people like me to believe that Black people are inherently dangerous and should be brutally controlled by police. I’m not buying it and I will not be divided from my multiracial family, community, and city. Instead, I want to talk about the joyful, connected, safe future we can all have in our city – that you as elected officials and your hard-working staffers have the power to lead us towards.
Like many of you I am a religious person. I believe that every person is made in God’s image, uniquely precious and deserving of full respect and dignity. My tradition calls me to believe in and work for a just and loving society. The prophet Micah speaks of this vision of peace and abundance, when he says that we shall beat our swords into plowshares, no one will be afraid, and each person sit under her own vine and fig tree. Every person’s safety is precious and it is inextricably linked to their freedom from fear and from deprivation. We absolutely must stop and defund policing that harms the unique, wonderful people of this city. Beating swords into plowshares means defunding the police and funding the housing, childcare, schools, health, food, and more, that our residents need.
Near where I live, on 14th Street, there is a span of several blocks where you can go any day and see what deprivation and despair look like. There are about two dozen people who seem to have substance abuse and/or mental health issues, who are regularly hanging out, using alcohol and drugs, panhandling, or passed out on the sidewalk. Almost all of them are Black and brown, victims of decades and centuries of policies that treat them and their families as expendable and unworthy of opportunity or care. They are my neighbors, and most of the time they are friendly and have kind words for my kids and me.
When I regularly see police on 14th Street I am deeply afraid for my neighbors’ safety. Many times I’ve waited down the block or across the street while police questioned or detained these neighbors. I’m not even sure why I hang around – to be a witness? To act as a check on police violence, implying by my mere presence that someone who’s white and middle class cares about the safety of my neighbors? I am afraid to call 911 when I see someone clearly in need of medical help. I am afraid that one day someone will get shot by a cop.
We need to get police out of public safety and crisis response. There should be someone that our neighborhood could call on for help – someone that would show up with resources and care, not the implicit threat of a gun. I believe that every one of these people deserves a good life and help with their serious struggles – not to be punished and criminalized.
Imagine a city where schools taught and practiced restorative justice, instead of in-school police harassing Black and brown children and funneling them into the prison industrial system. Imagine a city where people with drug issues or in crisis could get help. Let’s stop putting money into policing and controlling Black and brown people, find ways to deal with violence and crisis that do not further harm and traumatize people, and make sure that every single person in our city has their needs met. I know that the elected leaders here today would like to see our city leading the way towards that future, away from the cycles of fear and violence that terrorize Black and brown communities and line the pockets of the corporations that profit from our spending on police, weapons, and jails.
We are coming together across our city to demand liberty and justice for all. Let’s stop buying swords, and start planting vines and fig trees.