Opinions divided over two Athens commissioners' plan to defund police

“Defund the police” is now a demand from protesters not just in Atlanta but in Athens as well.

That’s where two commissioners, Mariah Parker and Tim Denson, have proposed one of the most aggressive plans to reduce funding and cut the department in half over the next few years.

Tuesday night government leaders heard from the public, and opinions are sharply divided.

Tensions boiled over with a physical altercation occurring before the meeting ever began.

Three groups were present: supporters of a proposal to reduce police funding, opponents who support full funding, and one group that wants to get rid of the police department altogether.

“If we do really care about public safety, we have to do that in the budget,” said Chris Xavier.

He is one activist who gathered outside the Athens-Clarke County City Hall ahead of the meeting.

While he and a group of others demand eventual disbandment of the police department, two Athens commissioners proposed a plan last week to decrease police funding and reallocate those resources.

Their “50/10” plan would:

• Reduce the size of the police department by 50% over 10 years

• Allocate $50,000 to a community-based committee

• And invest in unarmed, non-police responders such as mental health professionals and social workers

“It’s claiming to redefine public safety and reimagine public safety, but then we’re seeing an actual increase in the police budget for the next fiscal year,” said Imani Scott-Blackwell, a community activist.

The mayor and commissioners originally planned to vote on the 2021 budget but postponed the vote to next Thursday.

Instead, they heard from local residents -- dozens lined up for hours to voice their opinions about the proposal.

“I think the people against the police have some very good thoughts as far as involving more social workers,” said Jason Smith, an Athens resident. “But I think it’s a shame we have to lump all the police into the category of all being bad people. I think we need to have some kind of authority there.”

If approved, the 2021 budget would allocate around 25.8 million dollars to police services.

The mayor and commission will vote on the budget next Thursday. The approved budget is effective July 1 of this year.