I’ll be the first to admit that “defund the police” is a daunting slogan, one that has sparked controversy amongst the public. It is many people’s gut reaction to envision a purge-like society, where criminals wreak havoc on the innocent and police officers no longer exist to protect anyone. In reality, it’s much less alarming than this.
“Defund the police'' is aimed at redefining what public safety looks like by moving away from our dependency on the police and instead reinvesting money into community resources which address the socioeconomic contributors of crime. The idea is, as more money goes into stable housing, mental health services and aid for the homeless, the need for police enforcement will gradually decrease.
This proposal isn’t a new one but has recently resurfaced as Black Lives Matter protests have erupted across the world, and it’s important to know what they’re fighting for.
Black Americans are at the forefront of police brutality. According to Mapping Police Violence, a research collaboration which collects data on police killings nationwide, Black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, even though Black people are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. Much of this disproportionality has been reinforced because of Ronald Reagan's “War on Drugs” and Bill Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. These both increased support for law enforcement and directly harmed communities of color.
“Law and order” rhetoric, enforced by political figures, has led to policies which have increased police militarization. Armored vehicles, rifles and grenade launchers are just some of the equipment used by police officers to – seemingly – prepare for war. According to the Defense Logistics Agency, $7.4 billion dollars worth of excess military equipment has been transferred to police forces across the country since 1997. Law enforcement agencies are still heavily militarized despite evidence indicating that militarizing the police has no effect on reducing crime rates, according to a 2018 study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
This warrior-like mentality of the police has only been perpetuated by Dave Grossman, author and law enforcement trainer, who coined the term “killology” – the psychological and physiological study on killing. Traveling across the country over 200 days a year, Grossman has been one of the nation’s top law enforcement trainers for 19 years. Grossman’s teachings encourage the use of lethal force and champion police officers to view themselves as saviors of a society that cannot function without them. To Grossman, it is not a matter of if police officers should shoot people – but when.
According to data compiled by The Washington Post, police officers have killed over 5,000 people since 2015. This is terrifying.
Police brutality is a public health issue, one that disproportionately ravages Black communities. Police officers are not God. They are not society's saviors. They are not jurors, judges or executioners of the state, but they’re acting as if they are.
Even worse, police officers are rarely held accountable for their actions. From 2013-2019, 99% of shootings by the police did not result in an officer being convicted of a crime, according to Mapping Police Violence.
One of the reasons for this vast overprotection of the police is the legal doctrine, qualified immunity, which shields police officers from being held legally responsible for constitutional violations as long as a “clearly established” law was not broken.
All of this, combined with a myriad of other problems, is the reason people have called for defunding the police and why America needs to rethink the role of law enforcement from the ground up. Reducing this societal problem down to a few bad apples is not only harmful but delusional. It’s time we realize that our policing system – the “civil servants” of society – is rotten to its roots.
Police departments across the country take up large portions of city budgets, which leaves less money for social services. In Baltimore, for every dollar spent on the police department, 55 cents goes to public schools, 5 cents on job programs and 1 cent on mental health and violence prevention initiatives, according to a report published by the Center for Popular Democracy in 2017.
Defunding the police, as well as demilitarization, more accountability and better training for police officers, are all important actions that need to be considered when discussing police brutality. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but we are way past introducing incremental changes.
As intimidating and foreign as some of these proposals may seem, they shouldn’t be feared. Supporting these measures means supporting a society of justice and peace, one where the correct number of shootings by police officers is 0.