Theresa El-Amin, regional director of the Southern Anti-Racism Network, has called for an investigation into the policies and procedures for awarding Crime Prevention grants to local nonprofits.
El-Amin addressed the issue Tuesday at a Columbus Council meeting, where she described the program as “the most unethical, incestuous, patronage scheme I’ve ever seen in giving away public dollars.”
In June, council approved Crime Prevention grants totaling $731,600 for 29 community programs. The grantees were chosen by a board, which consists of seven members selected by the mayor and councilors.
The Southern Anti-Racism Network was awarded $13,000 of a $22,000 request for a Strong Parental Involvement in Community Education (SPICE) project. But El-Amin declined to accept the funding because her appeal for an additional $8,400 was denied, according to a news release from her organization.
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On Tuesday, she presented a list of the top five grant recipients by year from 2013 to 2017. Those topping the list for several years included the Columbus Police Department, Literacy Alliance of Columbus, Georgia Appleseed Inc. and Family Center of Columbus.
El-Amin criticized the percentage of dollars funneled to the Muscogee County School District through some of the programs.
“It amounts to a few organizations, each receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars over that period in order to prevent crime,” she said. “And as we know now with what’s happening in this community, it’s not working.”
She said there’s a “school to prison pipeline” system in Columbus, funneling children into a life of crime. She read from comments that she made Monday at a Muscogee County School Board meeting, where she said out-of-school suspensions “create the conditions for schools to be incubators for gang activity in Muscogee County and surrounding communities where poverty and unemployment are high.”
“The crime prevention money is not helping, and it should,” she said Tuesday at the council meeting. “And it’s going to take a long time to undue what has been done. ... In terms of the quality of life for the community, it’s severely diminished by the loss of a whole generation of young people.”
El-Amin said Columbus has a high level of organized crime by young people under 30.
“And you know I’m telling the truth,” she said. “You’ve got 33 murders. So I’m saying that Crime Prevention grant money should be used differently. You don’t have enough police officers. You can’t afford to give away $700,000 a year. You really can’t. But if you’re going to give it away, it has to be done in a way that you don’t have somebody administrating a giveaway. You really have got to have a strategic plan associated with it. So, I’m calling for an investigation.”
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the city takes the problems El-Amin described seriously and will take a fresh look at the issue. But she disputed the number of murders quoted by El-Amin, saying that police officials had texted her during the meeting, putting the number at 27.
Crime Prevention Director Seth Brown spoke in response to El-Amin’s comments. He said El-Amin is correct in that 70 percent of the money goes to MCSD children.
“And that’s because that’s our most at risk population,” he said. “We found probably four years ago that the funds would be better used toward juveniles in elementary and middle school and that’s where we would see the most impact.”
Brown said the Boys & Girls Club, for example, works with 50 children that are on the verge of being removed from schools through expulsion and suspension.
“They remain in the school system, they remain in classes; they have to see counselors and check in with the court system,” he said. “And those 50 kids would be 50 kids that would be on the street otherwise.”