ASHLAND, Ore. — One of the growing movements in the country is a call for reduced police budgets and instead move funds to alternate services like social housing and mental health services. That movement found its way to Ashland, Oregon.
Around 7 pm at the Ashland Plaza, hundreds of people gathered and held signs reading "Defund the Police" and "Black Lives Matter". Protesters lined Main Street for about 30 minutes before the funneled into the streets before marching through the city. Protesters marched from the Ashland Plaza to the Ashland Police Department headquarters on East Main Street.
There, protesters led "No justice, no peace" and "Defund the Police" chants. One man spoke to the crowd saying, "[George Floyd] died for us to witness what's going on in our own life. Respect each other. Respect each other, man."
The call for a reduction in police budgets was spurred by the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis at the end of May. Protests have been going on for weeks throughout the US. Many people believe police budgets should be reduced and instead allocated to other services.
Saturday evening in Ashland, a few people were handing out pamphlets titled "What does 'defund the police' mean?" In it, they call for "gradually defunding and disbanding an inherently racist system of forceful socioeconomic control and make space for a new system." One of the main points in it is to take police officers away from mental health crises.
They reference CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) which provides "immediate stabilization in case of urgent medical need or psychological crisis, assessment, information, referral, advocacy and transportation to the next step in treatment." CAHOOTS currently works in the Eugene and Springfield metro areas in Oregon. According to their website, each CAHOOTS team is made up of a "medic (either a nurse or an EMT) & a crisis worker (who has at least several years experience in the mental health field)."
In an earlier interview with NewsWatch 12, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O'Meara said that the police and the protesters are not too far apart in the changes they want to see.
"I don't disagree with a lot of the people that say we should defund the police," said O'Meara. "Because what they are really saying is that we need to have more of an emphasis on mental health and substance abuse treatment and addressing the homeless issues."
But Chief O'Meara does not think you can just completely get rid of police officers altogether.
"I will actually disagree that we need to get rid of police officers," O'Meara said. "You are always going to need a police officer to respond to a violent crime."
One of the organizers of Saturday's protest in Ashland, Erik Navickas, said in an earlier interview why the protest was coming to Ashland. The defunding of Ashland Police stems from what organizers say is a need to address the homelessness issue in Ashland.
"We feel that a lot of money is being wasted by funding police that is just harassing these people downtown, rather than really addressing the problem and dealing with the solution in a healthy way, or dealing with the problem in a healthy way," Navickas said.