Defund Police Boise

Top: Protesters in Boise call for the abolition of the police. Bottom: Ryann Banks emceed a protest at Boise City Hall.

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The atmosphere at Boise City Hall the afternoon of June 16 crackled with anger and disappointment. 

"At the end of the day, Black and Brown people can't breathe," shouted protest organizer Ryann Banks into a megaphone. 

Earlier that afternoon, the Boise City Council had held a 20-minute information session with Acting Police Chief Ron Winegar about police brutality—a hot topic after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, which has sparked protests nationwide, including in Boise—but its focus on practices BPD mostly has in place already and improvements in line with Campaign Zero felt like a rebuff to demonstrators who have for weeks campaigned for something different: defunding the police entirely.

"We must abolish and defund contemporary police practices," Banks told the crowd of more than 100 people, later adding, "If there is a terrorism organization in the country, it is police. And that must change."

At its informational session, the first of several, the city council didn't touch the topic of diverting funds from armed policing to alternative public safety methods. Rather, it focused on Campaign Zero and the Eight Can't Wait campaign. Those pushes focus on reforming police practices by requiring deescalation, warning people before shooting, exhausting all nonviolent alternatives before using deadly force, establishing a use-of-force continuum for all officers, requiring comprehensive reporting, banning shooting at moving vehicles, requiring officers to intervene when other officers violate rules and procedures, and banning chokeholds. 

According to Winegar, the BPD has already met or exceeded many of the standards promoted by Campaign Zero, telling members of the council that the department could bolster its comprehensive reporting rules. Though chokeholds are banned, BPD continues to use a "lateral vascular restraint." He said the department has moved beyond establishing a use-of-force continuum.

"Many years ago, we had a use-of-force continuum," he told the council. "But best practices and modern policing have taught ethical intervention, implicit bias training. An officer should never employ unnecessary force. We feel like we're actually being more accountable and requiring more accountability from our officers."

Backlash against the informational session came quickly. An organizer of an upcoming Juneteenth celebration in Boise, Tanisha Jae Newton, took to Instagram to voice her disapproval, calling the session a "mediocre, vanilla, sub-par conversation" that didn't examine questions about policing critically. Taking aim at Winegar's comments about reporting requirements, she said more than enough data is available to show that Idaho law enforcement and the criminal justice system are rigged against Blacks, Indigenous people and people of color.

"We have data—we incarcerate them more," she said. "To gloss over that—wild."

City officials have acknowledged that there are disparities in criminal justice, but Boise Mayor Lauren McLean told reporters during a press meet-and-greet with incoming Police Chief Ryan Lee that she does not support defunding the police. That, in addition to the tenor of the city council's conversation with Winegar, has only agitated proponents of defunding, some of whom described themselves at the protest as the new mayor's erstwhile supporters. 

Standing at the entryway at City Hall, Banks took particular aim at McLean and the Boise City Council, for whom she said allyship means facing historical and contemporary police violence and abolishing the city's reliance on modern law enforcement methods. 

"Blood and generational harm will be on her hands" if they don't, she said.

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