Last Tuesday, I held a grieving father's hand. I saw a grandmother cry as she recounted how she watched her grandson murdered in her yard. He was shot and killed by Phoenix PD.
Emilio was in a mental health crisis, and trying to self medicate. His family had actually reached out twice to the police department for help, to get him treatment or some support. On the third time, he ended up dead.
When we say defund the police, it's not a political slogan or a cute hashtag. It's because people are dying. People's brothers, sons, grandsons. And the only way to get them mental health support and substance use care, is to fund programs to make that available and accessible. It's about taking a tiny fraction of the budget and shifting it into programs that *prevent* harm from happening in the first place. Because if all our budget money goes to police, then we are saying we believe the solution to mental health crises and drug use is jail, or death.
While we stood outside, listening to testimony from Emilio's family, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and the Phoenix City council discussed a plan for almost $200,000,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds, designated to help Phoenix recover from pandemic. ZERO dollars of this plan were slated to be spent on mental health services or substance use treatment.
I was humbled to be asked by our partners at Poder in Action to attend today. Below is an excerpt from the testimony I shared on behalf of UUJAZ:
"Hello, my name is Janine Gelsinger, I'm a faith leader, and the Executive Director of Unitarian Universalist Justice Arizona.
I was surprised to read that there isn't support for mental health care and substance use care in this round of ARPA funds.
Our friends at Poder in Action made 60,000 phone calls, and mental health care and substance use care was the biggest community priority. As a UU I trust that people closest to the problem are closest to the solution, and I trust that the people of Phoenix who were surveyed know what they need.
I see a lot of good in this budget… I see that you are funding more shelters for houseless folks, for example. But to me this budget fails to address the root causes of so many of the post-covid issues in Phoenix. Failing to provide mental health care and substance use care means that the City thinks the solution is criminalization, that mental illness and drug use can be solved by police, not preemptive care that would create a truly safer community.
My UU faith calls me towards a vision of Beloved Community, where everyone has what they need. Budgets are a moral document. Show that you prioritize the future of our kids, and our communities, by funding $10 million for a community led exploration into mental health and substance use solutions."
I'd urge you to watch some of the testimony from Emilio's family today. Then, email or call your city council member, and the Mayor, and tell them you want to see ARPA money for mental health care and harm reduction. Let us know if you are willing to speak next time we are at city council, and thank you to Bunny Hostas and Carrie Lifshitz for sending in your comments.