Since the tragic passing of George Floyd on Memorial Day and Breonna Taylor on March 13th, the idea of “defunding the police” has gained traction. Of course, it has already been weaponized in our country’s constant game of polarized nasty checkers, as I like to refer to it.
I see the arguments as follows:
1. The police and their supporters are oppressive racists, perpetuating systemic racism.
2. Defunding=abolishing police. We will have anarchy!
The positions reflect two needed discussions.
1. The deaths of Mr. Floyd and Ms. Taylor show there needs to be better mechanisms for removing corrupt officers and preventing tragedies. The relationship between communities of color and police needs to be re-imagined.
2. We need to discuss what the public expects of the police. Regular officers are asked to do far too much. Shifting responsibilities+funding away from them to those better equipped would make the police and community happier.
Let’s begin by breaking down ‘defunding the police.’
“Defunding the police does not necessarily mean getting rid of the police altogether. Rather, it would mean reducing police budgets and reallocating those funds to crucial and oft-neglected areas like education, public health, housing and youth services. (Some activists want to abolish the police altogether; defunding is a separate but connected cause.) It’s predicated on the belief that investing in communities would act as a better deterrent to crime by directly addressing societal problems like poverty, mental illness and homelessness-issues that advocates say police are poorly equipped to handle, and yet are often tasked with.”
First of all, defunding and abolishing the police are not always the same, contrary to what some partisans say. Be careful of the propaganda.
To be fair, much of the conflating comes from the situation in Minneapolis. In a veto-proof majority, the City Council (CC) voted to ‘defund and disband’ the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) this past Sunday.
Council President Lisa Bender said:
“Our commitment is to end our city’s toxic relationship with the MPD, to end policing as we know it, and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.”
‘To end policing as we know it’ sounds an awful like getting rid of the police altogether, doesn’t it?
On CNN, she expanded: “I think the idea of having a police-free future is very aspirational. And I am willing to stand with community members who are asking us to think of that as the goal.” (:20-:32)
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison added on Twitter: “We are going to dismantle the MPD. And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together. We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response. It’s really past due.”
Dismantle=break into pieces, which is a key step into abolishing something.
In this case, defund, dismantle and abolish are all being thrown around, which confuses the issue for many observers.
The Minneapolis CC plans on defunding the MPD on the way to dismantling and abolishing it. Long-term, they want no police. Suggesting otherwise is naive.
I’m not passing a value judgment here. The CC and community have determined the MPD is beyond reform. That’s their call. They have moved beyond defunding and streamlining the police and its budget into a more efficient and accountable organization.
But what if your community still wants to have a police force? Let’s take a look at what the police are expected to do.
According to former Boston, NYC and LA police chief and commissioner William Bratton:
Are we asking police to do too much?
“In many respects, we are. Throughout my career, starting in Boston decades ago, that has been the case. The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder. After 9/11, police departments, particularly in large cities, are expected to commit resources to preventing terrorism. We are expected now to deal with cyber crime, and the opioid crisis. Police are being expected to be better trained to deal with emotionally disturbed people on the street. We are asking police officers in the 21st century to be almost doctors- what drug are they probably on? What mental-health condition? I have an expression that we used in Los Angeles, but I think it applies for the profession as a whole: ‘too few who have been asked to do too much with too little for too long.’”
Mr. Bratton has worked as a police officer for 40 years in some of the largest American cities on both coasts. He agrees that the police have had too much on their plate for decades. It’s hard enough to prevent crime and disorder. Add counter-terrorism, cyber crime, opioids and mental health makes the job impossible. In potentially lethal situations, police have to diagnosis health conditions and determine what drugs someone is taking.
This is madness, unfair to the police and those they serve.
Mr. Bratton’s view is compatible with The Cut’s definition of defunding. Shifting more responsibilities and funding to groups better designed to deal with mental health, drug addiction and the like will allow police officers to do their true job better: direct law enforcement. They won’t need as much money, satisfying cries for defunding. Everyone would be happier.
Our polarized, nasty checkers game and two party system will naturally push the extremes.
As usual, avoid them.