Some took to the streets, others got online to leave a public comment in a virtual Cambridge City Council meeting — all part of an effort by residents to decrease funding for the city’s police department in the 2021 city budget.

Surrounded by at least 300 protesters holding signs and chanting during the action Monday evening, Cambridge resident Brian Lewis sat on the lawn of Cambridge City Hall with his 13-year-old son Calvin, who held a hand-written sign that read, “DEFUND THE POLICE.”

“I think our police officers are asked to do things they're not trained to do, and if we fund these other agencies more effectively, then we don't need law enforcement to do these tasks,” Lewis said. “And when law enforcement gets involved, things often escalate. You end up with folks in prison who would be better off in treatment or other social programs.”

Activists stood on the lawn holding large pieces of paper to form a giant chart, representing a selection of programs that are slated to receive less funding in the 2021 fiscal year than the police department, including libraries, child care support services, workforce development, youth programs, housing and environmental planning. The full proposed budget for policing came to nearly $66 million, including a $4.1 million budget increase this year.

Protesters like Cambridge resident Kayla Branard are demanding that these funds be put into social programs instead, which she says will be more beneficial to the city overall. “The city needs to reroute their budgeting system and put it into education and back into the city, instead of going to police,” Branard said, while a crowd chanted, “no good cops in a racist system!,” behind her.

More than 300 Cambridge residents signed up to give a public comment at a virtual City Hall meeting that coincided with the beginning of the protest, and carried on long after the protest dispersed. City councilors heard from their constituents, including Andy Hyatt, a psychiatrist doing his residency at Cambridge Health Alliance.

“I strongly support removing tasks from the police that they are not well equipped to handle,” Hyatt said during the public comment period. “The most obvious to me is the mental health crisis response. Individuals experiencing problematic substance use or a mental health crisis would be better served by a social worker, harm reduction counselor or peer support specialists than by an armed police officer. And I fear for my black patients every time they interact with the police.”

Tamara Harper described herself as “a black woman with a black son” who works for Cambridge Public Schools.

“My son is going to be in the world on his own in a few short years,” Harper said during the public comment period, “and I need to know that the city of Cambridge is doing everything to ensure his safety.”

Harper described witnessing a black man experience a mental health episode earlier in the week, and feeling afraid to call in the police to the scene. “I called the best team, I called Cambridge Health Alliance to see if there is any way that this person could get served without calling 911,” she said. “There was not, and I did not call 911.”

Each given a minute to speak, the hundreds of residents called on the city to implement programs similar to those seen in Los Angeles, where city officials redirected $1 billion from the LA County Jail to build a mental health facility, or in Oregon, where a program called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) provides mobile crisis intervention at a lower cost to the city than the police responding to 911 calls.

This protest comes on the heels of the Minneapolis City Council voting to “defund and dismantle” the city’s police department, following the police killing of George Floyd. On Sunday, Council President Lisa Bender told CNN the city plans to implement “a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe” following the "defunding" of the police force. And earlier this week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti promised to slash between $100 — $150 million from the police budget.

Cambridge resident Heather Pickerell urged city councilors that similar measures are needed to create real change — and things like police cameras and training won’t make a substantial difference.

“These reforms do not work and rely on the untrue premises that the police increase safety,” Pickerell said during public comment. “You cannot sustain an institution that persistently harms black Americans, nor can you compromise their lives by settling for cameras and training. I hope our progressive little city will lead by example.”