Defund the police is not a call for anarchy – it is a call for restructuring and resolving the problems in the current, broken system.
When I first heard “Defund the Police” I was confused – don’t we still need police?
But as I researched the changes that are being suggested, I realized the demand to “Defund the Police” is not only reasonable, it is a critical piece of the natural and necessary evolution of our society.
Defunding the police isn’t about allowing lawlessness and anarchy – it is about rethinking community needs and protection.
It is about adding a new emergency service of social workers and people trained in de-escalation, mental health crises, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
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I am a white Canadian woman. I grew up in an affluent neighborhood, wrapped safely in white privilege.
I have never had to fear the police or visit a family member in prison.
I have no idea what it is like to face a world that is working against you.
But I am trying to listen and learn. I certainly don’t have the answers.
But, in case you are confused and perhaps even angry when you hear, “Defund the Police,” I wanted to share some of what I am learning about why the idea isn’t as ludicrous as it might sound.
The Defund the Police movement is EVOLUTION at work.
As a species, we must constantly evolve and improve to survive.
We must fight against the danger of the status quo, the temptation to continue in the same patterns simply because it is the way “we have always done it.”
At no point in our human history have we ever succeeded by doing things the way “we have always done it.” Obviously, every aspect of our lives is constantly evolving, from our education to our transportation, to our communication, to our medical practices, etc.
We learn, we change, we get better.
The call to defund the police is actually about trying to look at what we have learned through the successes and failures of law enforcement and the justice system and build a system that works better for everyone.
Keith Mayes, professor of African American studies at the University of Minnesota, told CTV News Channel. “They’re not calling for no law enforcement. They are trying to say that there may be other ways that we can police and we can engage in public safety in our communities. Maybe not this massive militarized police presence.”
Over the last several decades, we have removed corporal punishment from our schools, we have made it illegal for parents to whip their children and men to beat and rape their wives, and now we need to eliminate police brutality and racial discrimination.
As a society, we need to continue to stand up to people in power who use violence to intimidate and control.
It is unacceptable when a police officer, whose role it is to protect and serve, uses unnecessary force and violence against members of the public.
According to Toronto activist Desmond Cole, the current police response to a mental health crisis is harmful.
“What we do now is we say ‘Let’s send several burly men with guns who have a licence to kill to go and support somebody who may be in mental health crisis.’ We don’t care about the fact that that person may be terrified about an armed response to their house. We keep insisting that there’s no other way.”
Cole and fellow activists insist there is a better way — they want people who are unarmed and trained in social work with expertise in de-escalation tactics and the ability to offer services and support to respond to such crisis.
Former RCMP officer Alain Babineau told CTV News Montreal, “Something that they should be taking a little more time in dealing with they’re so quick (with) tickets and cuffs… and you end up with horrific scenarios that are making the news.”
Call in the Experts
Defunding the police does not mean that we do not need police officers and first responders.
Society definitely needs such emergency services — but we need the RIGHT KIND of first responders for the situation at hand.
Many police interactions and calls are dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
As a society, we should not be sending armed police officers, who are trained to arrest and dominate, into situations that require experts trained in de-escalation, drug use, and mental health.
Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto is calling for a “new emergency service.”
Hudson explained to CTV, “People would have the option to call experts who are trained to deal with the health needs and social needs of people who are experiencing a mental health crisis.”
CTV also reported that some members of the policing community agree:
“Carl Cartwright, an inspector with the Ottawa Police Service, said that he would be open to a reassessment of whether or not policing is the correct response for a variety of incidents in communities. ‘Policing is already pulled in many different directions and not every call for service in the community requires a police officer to be there, but we seem today to be the panacea for all the ills of society, because we respond to everything.’”
The Police Need More Support
Police officers shouldn’t have to deal with the chaos caused by under-funded health care and mental health programs.
The fact is that when governments do not invest in health care, child care, substance abuse, education, and social and community programming, the demand on police services go up.
Police officers are called into situations that should not be their problem and they do not have the resources to help.
In my twenties, I was a community youth worker for a private organization, called Youth for Christ. I saw first hand how the lack of resources contributed to the problems in families and the community.
I know many wonderful police officers who are honest, hard working public servants.
We need good police officers — and we need to give them the training, community support and resources to allow them to do their job with less stress and less violence.
Who are the Real Criminals
Personally, I think a certain number of prisons are necessary. There are people who are dangerous and need to be in prison.
Police do have a role in society. Society does need protection.
But from whom?
Who is actually endangering the lives of Americans and Canadians?
Drug addiction, substance abuse, poverty, mental illness — these problems need to be addressed with robust social and health care programs.
And kids struggling at school, certainly should NOT be handcuffed. Police should NOT be in schools.
It is sickening to realize that the two most corrupt presidents in American history have called themselves the “Law and Order” presidents.
They have stood on their platforms, shaken their fists, and declared they would protect Americans from criminals, while they had their staff carry out crimes against their own country.
Prisons, especially in America, are overflowing with men and women who should not be incarcerated, whose lives were destroyed because of racial injustice and poverty.
After watching Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13TH” on Netflix, I was horrified to learn of the extent and history of the systemic racism and abuse that have lead to a “justice” system where one out of four African-American males will serve prison time at one point or another in their lives.
At various points in “13TH”, there are cuts to the word CRIMINAL in all caps across the screen. It is a reminder of the racism that has vilified people of color and the injustice that has unfairly incarcerated millions of black Americans — the higher sentences given for crack vs. cocaine possession, the plea bargains innocent people are scared into signing, and the huge number of people trapped in jails because they are too poor to post bail.
Not only is society being damaged by turning a vast number of citizens into “criminals”, destroying their ability to earn a living, ripping apart families and leaving children without their parents, but the cost of incarcerating those innocent people is STAGGERING.
Money Better Spent
If any American wants to ask where will the money come for improved social, education, and health care programs, they can look first at the billions of dollars spent every year incarcerating Americans.
“The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. Think about that.” -Barack Obama as quoted in Ava DuVernay’s documentary ‘13TH’
Let’s stop and think about the money it costs the government when a police officer makes an unnecessary arrest of a drug user. There is the cost of the police officer’s time and all the costs of the police department dealing with that charge – the paperwork, the detainment, etc. There is also the cost of the court system, jail, and prison. There is the potential job and income loss of the detained person as well as the child care costs that may occur as a result of that detainment, not to mention the domestic devastation that occurs within that family.
Instead of detaining and arresting (and sometimes killing!) people who are not a threat to society, those funds can be used to hire people who can actually help deal with the root causes of the problems.
Many people will disregard these ideas as liberal nonsense, but this isn’t a liberal versus conservative issue.
BOTH parties have done damage and both parties need to realize that police and justice reform just makes SENSE, from a financial and a moral standpoint.
Signs that this New Model Works
Changes are happening and there is hopeful news from cities such as Camden, NJ, about how communities can benefit from a different attitude and approach from police forces:
“The entire Camden force was dismantled a few years ago. A new, larger force was rebuilt in conjunction with the surrounding county after a few major adjustments,” the CBC reports, “Officers were retrained, their job conditions were revised and a bigger county-level force was relaunched, not only with more officers but also with a renewed focus: community service…”
This past week, in response to the police killing of George Floyd, Minneapolis City Council announced they intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department.
Council President Lisa Bender told CNN, “We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe.”
After analyzing 911 calls in their city, Bender reports that most calls are for mental health services, health services, EMT and fire and do not require an armed police response.
In a tweet by Jeremiah Ellison, city councilman for Ward 5, promises, “We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. 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.”
Outside of North America, there are other examples of successful, non-violent policing. In fact, in Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Britain, and Ireland, police officers generally do not even carry firearms.
Considering the number of guns in America, many Americans may not be comfortable having their police force unarmed.
But as Paul Hirschfield, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University, explains a key difference between the US and elsewhere is training.
US police officers are trained for an average of just 19 weeks, whereas police in Norway have three years of training before they’re fully qualified.
Hirschfield explains, “If you only have 19 weeks of training, you’re going to spend those on the most essential things. Unfortunately, in the United States, it’s about what you need to defend yourself. How you’re going to avoid getting hurt. If you have three years, you can also learn how to protect people, how to avoid these situations from arising in the first place. It fosters a whole different orientation and culture in law enforcement.”
Clearly, North American police must increase training to ensure officers de-escalate hostile situations and use minimal violence in response to a threat.
Whether or not North American cities actually dismantle their police forces before rebuilding new systems, it is obvious that the systemic racism within policing must be comprehensively addressed and resolved and that all police officers receive extensive training in de-escalation and dealing with mental health and substance abuse crisis.
We must acknowledge the sacrifices and heroism of these first responders.
I imagine most of us know one or more good people who are police officers.
But just because there are “good cops” we cannot give up the fight to improve the enforcement and justice systems that are hurting so many North Americans.
The truth is, we can always do better. And we must.
Resources and Further Reading:
- 13TH – Netflix releases acclaimed Ava DuVernay racial inequality documentary 13th for free
- Black Lives Matter Vancouver Calls on the City to Dismantle Systems of Violence and Oppression
- Mineapolis City Council Members Announce Intent to Disband the Police Department, Invest in Proven Community-led Public Safety – The Appeal.org
- Minneapolis City Council members intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department – CNN
- Thousands are calling to defund the VPD. Here’s what that might look like. – CTV News
- Outrage and calls to ‘defund police’ in Canada – CTV News
- All 6 officers at Toronto woman’s apartment before her death have been interviewed, SIU says – CTV News
- Disband the police force? Here’s one U.S. city where the idea has been tried – CBC
- How do police handle violence in countries where officers don’t carry guns? – Quartz
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