About 50 members and allies of Friends of the Free Library rallied June 13 inside Philadelphia City Hall, demanding city officials increase annual funding by $15 million.
Unionized library workers and Library Friends Group members organized the #FundOurLibraries campaign to protest inadequate funding for the city’s 54 library branches. Over 750 emergency closures took place in 2018, 350 from lack of staff and 400 from building problems. An average of two branches were closed every day.
Activists were able to push Mayor Jim Kenney and the City Council for an increase of $3.5 million in the 2020 budget by gathering over 5,000 petitions, organizing hundreds of letters, phone calls and meetings with elected officials, and packing city budget hearings.
But FFL estimates, in their June 13 press release, at least $15 million is needed annually for staffing to keep all library branches open six days a week, to increase community programming and to make repairs on “dozens of failing roofs” and other building problems.
The city always seems strapped for cash when it comes to funding public schools or keeping libraries open, but has plenty of money to cover police brutality. Between 2013 and 2017 Philadelphia paid over $50 million to settle lawsuits filed against police officers, most of whom remain on the force.
As Philadelphia’s neighborhoods fight for funds for libraries, the Kenney administration increased the police budget by $18 million in fiscal year 2019 to $709 million, the largest item in the city’s annual budget. The Police Department budget was again upped in 2020 — by $54 million.
While the Free Library is allocated only $46 million for 2020, funding for police, prisons and “other criminal justice” costs will total $1.2 billion. (tinyurl.com/y6a9bu7x)
It’s common knowledge Black and Brown residents bear the brunt of police violence. Stop-and-frisk statistics from American Civil Liberties Union Pennsylvania prove it. And 81 percent of people shot by Philadelphia cops between 2007 and 2013 were African American, despite Black people accounting for just more than 40 percent of the city’s population. (tinyurl.com/y2fhnzp5)
The Plain View Project reported on June 1 that 328 Philadelphia police officers posted racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic and otherwise offensive content on Facebook.
But City Hall continues to increase the police budget while inadequately funding education and library programs for high poverty areas and communities of color. Its racist actions speak louder than words, revealing the underlying belief that police occupation of Black and Brown communities is more important than funding programs to help lift those communities from deep poverty.
Philadelphia residents of every age and race need clean, safe and modern library services, not more police!