Robert LeVertis Bell | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Robert LeVertis Bell

Political party: 
Democrat
Question 1: 

What skills, values, and experiences will you bring to this position? What is your vision for Metro Louisville, and how will the lives of Louisvillians be improved as a result of your time in office?

I am a longtime community activist and organizer. From a young age, I learned activist work, organizing with members of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the Southern Organizing Committee. Later, as a young adult I was involved in Brat Magazine and was the founding vice-president of the BRYCC House. I organized actively for years against organized racists and fascists throughout the South and Midwest. I went on to be active in many organizations including Citizens Against Police Abuse (CAPA) and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). I have been an activist union member both as a graduate student (University of Michigan GEO) and now as a member of JCTA. In recent years, I’ve been especially active in DSA and in my neighborhood, serving as the vice-president of the Shelby Park Neighborhood Association from 2016-2019. I am an English teacher at a challenged public middle school, and, as a teacher activist have been active in the Red for Ed movement locally and nationally. I believe that, with my copious experience and my political will and vision, I can be a lever for transformative progressive change for the city of Louisville.

Question 2: 

What initiatives will you support to decrease the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers, particularly in communities of color? What is your position on an independent civilian review of any police shooting resulting in a death? What other resources should Metro Council provide to improve public safety in your district and across Louisville?

In short and non-exhaustively, I support: a) decriminalizing drug possession and expunging possession-based criminal records b) abolishing cash bail c) expanding restorative justice initiatives d) allocating more funds into programs for youth, jobs, and community mental health. Maslow said that "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Many police shootings occur because armed police are the poorly-forged hammer we use to approach disparate problems that have far better solutions. We must re-evaluate priorities to secure a safe community. Initiatives that improve the quality of life for the most precarious members of our community -- the poor, the young, the housing insecure, jobless, and mentally ill -- will repay us in a safer and healthier society more so than more armed police and mass incarceration. Regarding civilian review: It must be more robust. It should be automatic whenever a police weapon is fired or a use-of-force related complaint is filed. Our civilian review board needs substantial improvements to be effective. Non-exhaustively, these improvements would include disciplinary authority, increased funding, increased publicity about the board’s role and improving access to its complaint system.

Question 3: 

Jail overcrowding is a huge issue in Louisville, and one that disproportionately impacts Black Louisvillians. What role do you think that ending cash bail and supporting alternatives to incarceration can play in addressing this issue?

My previous answer addresses this question but, to reiterate, I support abolishing cash bail. decriminalizing drug possession and concomitantly expunging possession-related drug offenses. This will help tremendously with jail overcrowding. In addition, I believe that prioritizing transformative and restorative justice and other alternatives to incarceration is essential. This is true for all offenders but especially for young, black and brown offenders. We need to transition from a carceral state to one that prioritizes practices of justice that are restorative and not retributive. We need to make youth engagement and providing opportunities for meaningful work a priority in order to holistically address the issues undergirding a large amount of violent crime and, when crimes have victims, we must need to take into account the needs of those victims and their communities in order to restore what was lost rather than to simply punish the offender.

Question 4: 

How would you include constituents in your district and across Louisville in the development of the annual Metro Louisville budget? What area(s) of the budget would you prioritize funding? What revenue increases would you propose to meet our city’s future budget needs?

As a democratic socialist, maximizing democratic input in the workplace, our neighborhoods, our government, and economy is the fundamental principle behind my work. This is my grounding philosophy for governance. Specifically, I will hold forums in every district neighborhood to educate citizens on the budget and to seek input to identify priorities. Where democratic institutions already exist -- say, activist, neighborhood and tenant organizations -- that can assist in identifying priorities, I will support them and work to increase equitable participation in them. Where such institutions do not exist, I will prioritize assisting community members in building them.

We need to invest in initiatives that improve the quality of life for the most precariously dwelling members of our community: the poor, young, housing insecure, jobless, and mentally ill. And we simply can’t keep cutting social services when budget shortfalls occur.

We must locate revenue and more judiciously manage resources. This will mean fighting tax incentives and giveaways to corporations and, when cuts are necessary, locating them in places like the $250 million police budget rather than closing libraries and grounding ambulances. We need to aggressively seek revenue, in part, by imposing the most progressive taxes we can legally enforce under state law.

Question 5: 

What are the main impacts of the global climate crisis in your community and what would you do to address the public health effects of this crisis on people in your district? 

Climate change is the battle for our lives. Some effects are here, more are coming, and yet more are unknown in character and valence. So any answer here will feel inchoate, even naive: Humanity may not survive at all. That said, my district borders the Ohio. Engineers have predicted that climate change will bring significant floods to the river and its tributaries. Flooding could devastate my district. As with most consequences of climate catastrophe, locally and globally, the most precarious residents of the community will be the ones most directly and immediately affected: people will be displaced and entire communities wiped out. This is just one foreseeable devastation and not even the worst case. Perpetual environmental racism and dirty infrastructure are part and parcel of the systematic underdevelopment of poor urban communities. The public health consequences are known and ongoing; the already dismal air quality and sky-high childhood asthma rates among working class Louisvillians are set to worsen. We need public health investments to ameliorate the damage and we need a Green New Deal to solve the crisis. We must rebuild our world in an equitable way that sustains life, builds and empowers working class, and that counters environmental racism.

Question 6: 

What is your plan for increasing access to safe, affordable housing and ensuring that long term residents are not displaced from neighborhoods that are undergoing redevelopment? What is your position on tenant's rights ordinances such as the proposed Clean Hands housing ordinance? Please explain. 

At last check, I’m the only local candidate to sign the Homes Guarantee pledge. I signed because it is my steadfast belief that housing should be a human right and not mere commodity. I will use whatever pulpit I have from the Metro Council to advocate national rent control legislation and otherwise advocate for tenants. I reject donations from real estate developers and large landlords. This isn’t because I think all developers are bad but because I know that the developer community has far too great of a say in how this city is run and I am willing to amplify, listen to, and be accountable to the voices of tenants and low-income homeowners who are often the victims of development. I support Clean Hands ordinances. I also support limiting winter-time evictions. We must expand programs for property tax relief for low-income legacy homeowners whose higher, gentrification-linked tax assessments increasingly encourage them to sell their homes. Moreover, we must push a discussion of public and social, not simply “affordable,” housing. When homes are designated “affordable” for those earning 80% of the AMI while a majority of a neighborhood’s residents earn far below that even “affordable” housing can lead to displacement.

Question 7: 

What are your plans to create and expand support and resources toward our immigrant population, undocumented or otherwise?

I believe very strongly in sanctuary city legislation.Refusing to cooperate with the unjust, racist, and unconstitutional enforcement regime of federal immigration enforcement is an absolutely essential step to being a compassionate and safe city for all of our residents. Beyond that, a true sanctuary environment involves comprehensive reforms, especially in criminal justice, some of which I’ve outlined in this text regarding know that immigrants who travel on visas are especially vulnerable. Beyond that, I will solicit the advice from and listen to the immigrant communities in my city to determine the best ways I can meet their needs.