Covid relief money is being used to fund the killing of Americans
And it's a bipartisan affair
Welcome to a Thursday evening edition of Progress Report.
We’d originally planned to run an in-depth story about an exciting development in the emerging worker-driven economy, but developing news out of Uvalde, Texas continues to make it impossible to think about anything other than the mass shooting and the politics that encourage it.
As we continue to learn in increasingly outrageous news updates, police officers in Uvalde displayed unfathomable cowardice throughout the course of the school massacre on Tuesday. Their failures cost the lives of an unknowable number of children, propelling an already incomprehensible nightmare into a black hole of despair. They spent 24 hours lying about it and securing positive media coverage until the truth began to emerge from the parents they tased, cuffed, and sentenced to lifetimes of grief.
This emerging scandal began unfolding on Wednesday, which also marked the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Despite the fact that the murder was followed by the largest sustained protest movement since the Civil Rights era, killings by cops have only risen over the past two years.
Remarkably, state and national legislators continue to reward such brutality with record outlays of money and political capital, frequently at the expense of our most pressing priorities.
In tonight’s edition of the newsletter, we dive into that society-wide mass misappropriation and where we go from here.
by Natalie Melzer
The investigation into Tuesday’s deadly mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas has underscored both the urgent need for gun control and the failure of police to prevent shootings and protect people.
Yet President Biden, a president who won office thanks to Black voters just months after the Black Lives Matter protests, has been encouraging states and municipalities to use their coronavirus relief funds on funding the police. They don’t exactly need the invitation — hundreds of millions of dollars in relief funds are already being directed toward prisons and police, on top of the more than $120 billion budgeted for law enforcement each year.
Keeping weapons of war legal and accessible is a panacea for Republicans, who rake in donations from the gun industry, get to push more funding for police and private prisons, and profit from the paranoia and division that are the byproduct of mass murder. The nihilist plan has been working like a charm, but events in Uvalde expose its biggest problem: Cops are often terrible at their jobs.
The shooter gave police every opportunity to stop him. He crashed his car outside the school, encountered a school district security officer before entering the building, and fired at two Uvalde police officers who then immediately backed off. As a result, the shooter was inside the school for up to an hour while police waited outside for a tactical team to arrive.
Despondent parents and onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school as the rampage unfolded. Some parents were so frustrated with the lack of police response that they thought about intervening themselves:
Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside the building.
Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”
But instead of attacking the shooter, Uvalde police went after the parents to prevent them from entering the building. They even pulled out their Tasers to keep the parents at bay.
The police’s ineptitude continued once backup Border Patrol agents arrived on the scene, ultimately requiring a school staff member to risk their lives to open the room where the shooter was hiding with a key.
Cops’ failure to show any urgency to protect children allowed the shooter to rampage through the school, while their incompetence directly led to one child’s death. According to a fourth-grader who survived the mass shooting, “When the cops came, the cop said: 'Yell if you need help!' And one of the persons in my class said 'help.' The guy overheard and he came in and shot her."
This is the level of service Uvalde receives in exchange for dedicating $4.1 million of their $10.4 million operating budget on the police department, which includes a S.W.A.T. team equipped with tactical gear more appropriate for a war zone than a town of 15,000.
The caption that the Uvalde Police Department posted with this image is particularly striking:
The Uvalde Police Dept. S.W.A.T. will be visiting the Uvalde CISD schools, Uvalde Classical Academy, and local businesses throughout the day. The purpose of the visits is to familiarize themselves with layouts of our local schools and businesses. S.W.A.T members will be in full tactical uniforms and we did not want the public to be alarmed when seen. We appreciate the cooperations of all schools and businesses involved. We will continue working together to make Uvalde the safest place to live.
It appears the police had specifically trained for a situation like the one which unfolded on Tuesday, challenging the efficacy of dedicating 40% of the town’s budget towards police.
The police’s failure in Uvalde took place just one day before the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, which ignited unprecedented racial justice protests and calls to “defund the police.”
Earlier this month Biden urged states and cities to use unspent pandemic stimulus money to fund crime prevention programs and hire police officers.
“The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities,” Biden said.
Yet there is already an inordinate amount of pandemic relief money going to police departments and the carceral system, with some states and localities putting 20-to-100% of their allocated relief dollars towards prisons and police.
State and local governments have a great deal of flexibility to determine how they use their shares of the $350 billion in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds included in the American Rescue Plan signed into law in March 2021. Governments may use the funds to:
Replace lost public sector revenue, using this funding to provide government services up to the amount of revenue lost due to the pandemic
Respond to the far-reaching public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic, by supporting the health of communities, and helping households, small businesses, impacted industries, nonprofits, and the public sector recover from economic impacts
Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical sectors
Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, to support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to expand affordable access to broadband internet
The most egregious case is happening down in Alabama, which devoted $400 million of its Fiscal Recovery Fund allocation to building two new mega-prisons.
The Treasury Department ruled that the construction of new correctional facilities is not an eligible use of recovery funds, but Republicans understand that there’s rarely ever any consequences when they break laws or ignore precedents. As such, the state is poised to move ahead anyway, arguing that the $400 million came from the “lost revenue” portion of the funds.
The state of Texas allocated more money to corrections than to food assistance, social services, human services outreach, culture, the environment, mental health, and parks and recreation combined. While $150 million of the state’s corrections allocation is going towards improving the 911 system, $360 million in COVID relief funds will pay Department of Corrections employees. They love putting people in jail.
Virginia is smartly investing 12% of its coronavirus relief funds towards broadband infrastructure and another 11% to water and sewer infrastructure.
However, the state is also using $2.7 million to purchase new live scan fingerprinting machines for the police and $20 million to implement a new compensation plan to incentivize the recruitment of new officers and to better retain the existing law enforcement workforce.
Mississippi has been awarded $1.8 billion in fiscal recovery funds, but has only allocated $5 million of it. All of that money will go towards death benefits for law enforcement officers and firefighters.
In Indiana, nearly two-thirds of the state’s allocated funds are being invested in rural broadband and regional economic development. That’s great to see, but the state also put $30 million towards police body cameras, a technology that is not proven to improve policing despite its widespread adoption, at least in part because no one uses them when they think they’re going to violate a civilian’s rights.
According to the National Institute of Justice — the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice — the current evidence regarding the effectiveness of body-worn cameras is mixed, with some studies suggesting there are benefits and others showing negligible or even negative impacts.
In addition to purchasing body cameras for police, the state has allocated $7 million towards police stab vests, and $10.5 million towards COVID hazard pay for state troopers and corrections officers.
West Virginia has nearly $10 million of its recovery funds — over 7% of its total allocation — going toward corrections, more than they have committed to public health or broadband infrastructure.
Counties are also directing fiscal recovery funds towards policing:
The city of Long Beach, CA is using all $136 million of its recovery funds to pay for police personnel costs
East Baton Rouge Parish, LA is using $11.8 million for police cars and motorcycles, new security cameras, and "technology" purchases for the police
Albuquerque, NM put $3 million toward new police cars
Chandler, AZ is directing $4.5 million toward hiring more police officers
As the tragedy in Uvalde so effectively demonstrated, responding to mass shootings with more cops and guns is a losing strategy with dire consequences, and using pandemic stimulus funds to double down on policing will undermine a strong and equitable recovery.
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