Perth Amboy received $16 million in American Rescue Funds. The community has asked there be hearings on the use of the funds. There have been none. Many community members have talked about wanting there to be more inclusion, transparency and accountability in the use of the funds. Many community leaders have challenged the use of funds as well.
At the January 11, 2023 Perth Amboy City Council meeting, the NAACP Perth Amboy presented their suggestions for the use of Perth Amboy’s allotment of the American Rescue Funds. They read the following statement.
“When the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed in 2021, White House officials were explicit: the $350 billion promised by the legislation was to be used by state and local governments to ensure sustainable, equitable, and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. For communities of color hit hardest by both the pandemic and decades of socioeconomic inequality, it was a chance to build the kind of basic local infrastructure—schools, jobs, and other resources—that build public safety.
Strategic investments in public safety are both more effective and cost-efficient than punitive ones- reducing the burden we place on police, jails, and courts to address social needs. Data consistently shows that increasing police budgets has no meaningful impact on crime rates. Public safety cannot simply be policed into existence; instead, it must be affirmatively created through investment in communities.
While many progressive communities committed to antiracism are investing ARPA funds to community services that PREVENT crime and make us safer, too many cities are instead actually DOUBLING-DOWN on their already-bloated police budgets. It is profoundly dispiriting that the largest civil rights movement in U.S. history is producing a policy response AGAINST its demands- oftentimes even at the urging of supposedly “Democratic” politicians like here in Perth Amboy. Tonight the city is poised to make the grave mistake of using over 2 million dollars in what’s supposed to be pandemic relief funds to instead purchase even MORE police surveillance equipment.
Civil rights organizations across the nation are demanding that cities invest as much ARPA money in community-based support systems that prevent crime upstream as it does in policing. “Policing and prosecution come onto the scene after crime and harm have already occurred. We simply want cities to meaningfully and robustly invest in services that prevent crime and keep residents safe,” said Sarah Omojola, an associate director of the Vera Institute of Justice. “Unless we start investing at least the same amount into community services as we do into punitive responses, we will never be safe or escape this cycle of overpolicing and mass incarceration.”
New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson knows neglecting investment in educational and economic opportunities sets his department up for failure. “We need to look at the underlying issues that trigger [public safety concerns], like injustices in educational opportunities, injustices in economic opportunities,” he said. “We as a police department are dealing with the backend of all of this. That is a result of what was not addressed on the front end.”
The Perth Amboy Area Branch NAACP is requesting that these ARPA funds be strategically invested to alleviate the failures Chief Ferguson identified. We recommend directing funds into programs that have a track record of success in areas proven to have an impact on public safety, including:
1.) Housing assistance;
2.) Income support for unemployed and underemployed people;
3.) Summer youth employment, educational, and recreational programs;
4.) Equitable, widespread vaccine distribution
5.) Non-profit and mutual aid programs;
6.) Resources for our students, school staff, and school communities;
7.) Evidence-based violence interruption programs;
8.) Safe, accessible, and ecologically sound transportation;
9.) Library expansion, and creation and maintenance of public spaces;
10.) Arts sector relief funding;
11.) Universal high-speed broadband for everyone.
These kinds of targeted investments would allow Perth Amboy to increase public safety by addressing the needs of the people. Putting more money into police responses while continuing to neglect community supports will only funnel more people into the criminal legal system without addressing the underlying causes of crime. Perth Amboy has a unique opportunity to curb the racist cycle of overpolicing and mass incarceration—it just needs to spend ARPA funds the right way.
And Samantha Castro, chair of Perth Amboy Citizens Public Advisory Board, has asked that I share these informational packets with you all tonight in hopes that you’ll really take the time to further educate yourselves on this before making such a big decision (which the overwhelming majority of the community seems to be completely unaware of).
She also asked that I share the following statement: “I think it is important to express that surveillance like this opens a can of worms and without the willingness from the council to table this funding so that we may talk regulation and boundaries IF this was funded, it can lead to a lot of lawsuits, a lot of hurt, and a lot of mistrust from the community. It would remove years of progress we have made towards community policing especially when the public realizes that this funding was to improve their quality of life, not for the police to receive new gadgets which will inevitably alienate and discourage a majority of residents.”