Minorities, specifically African-Americans, have a long history of being disproportionately affected by the very “policing” structure that protects others. The United States Constitution states that “all men are created equal,” however, the American police system has continuously demeaned minorities and has not treated them equally due to the racial hierarchy systemically rooted within America. As a society, we need to be more empathetic towards the needs of others, and we need to examine what we really mean when we say “Make America Great.” Part of that means rethinking our policing and criminal justice systems in a way that protects and prioritizes all Americans.
Defunding the police refers to the reallocation of police funding to social services like educational programs, healthcare, housing, youth services, and many other resources for various communities in need. I want to emphasize that defunding the police should not be characterized as a sloppy slogan; but instead, as a policy demand centered on equitable investments and budget allocations for all minorities, grounded in the history of the Black and African-American community continuously losing members at the hands of police officers.
Many of our leaders get so caught up in arguing for or against the statement “defund the police,” rather than working towards actually dismantling a system that continues to target minority communities. The phrase “defunding the police” does not necessarily mean dismantling the police system entirely, but rather decreasing the budgets spent on excessive policing while allocating those funds to underfunded social services that actually help keep citizens safe. Every year, the city of New York spends $10 billion on policing, which is more funding than what the Department of Health, youth and community development programs, homeless services, and housing preservation receive combined. After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters in New York City called for $1 billion worth of cuts to the 2021 NYPD budget, but only about $420 million was cut. Additionally, the LAPD also increased their police budget by $2 billion this past year while simultaneously cutting the pay of 2.5 thousand civilian workers. Los Angeles’ proposed police budget for 2021 is $1.8 billion, which is more than half of the city’s total spending for the year. Even the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the department’s nearly 9,900 sworn officers, criticized the LAPD’s proposed operating budget.
In 2017, Baltimore also set aside $480 million for its police department, while its public schools got only $265 million—the city still experienced an increased rate of homicides. In the summer of 2019, young people in Baltimore continued to demand that the government invest in their futures rather than investing in failed policing programs. Their proposition resulted in a $22 million cut in police spending for the upcoming fiscal year.
The cost of policing in the U.S. tripled from $42.3 billion in 1977 to $114.5 billion in 2017. Each year the U.S. spends around $80 billion on incarceration, with people of color being overrepresented. If you’re like me, you’re thinking about why so many of your tax dollars are being spent to hurt marginalized communities, and wondering what we can do to prevent that. The counterargument to the #DefundThePolice movement is that if we demand a decrease in police funding, police officers will have less training. However, with the number of taxpayer dollars spent on misconduct settlements each year, there is a high likelihood that police departments can sustain the minor cuts to reallocate city resources where they are desperately needed. Funding social services will help slow down crime rates in low-income and minority communities and provide families with the resources they need to thrive.
Historically, radical change usually has started with unpopular policy demands that, over time, become ideas that various institutions, but most importantly the public, ultimately agree on and adopt. For example, abolishing slavery was an unfavorable idea to many at first sight, but eventually was championed and succeeded. At some point, we have to do away with being palatable because that indirectly conveys a flawed message that Black and marginalized lives are a topic that can be debated. Political pioneers should simply call things what they are instead of always trying to appease the masses—society’s most powerless constituencies consistently wind up losing when we do that. With the proposal below, I am optimistic that Americans can put away our differences in light of helping those at risk.
Seven-point plan to redistribute the power of policing #DEFUNDTHEPOLICE
Structural changes can happen if we work together to create equity for all people. This proposal includes several points that will benefit African Americans and other minority communities and improve the police force by holding officers accountable for keeping communities safe. We know that proximity breeds care, and distance breeds fear, and it’s time we start shifting the narrative.
- Create special unit force, such as healthcare practitioners, to respond to drug overdoses.
- Train social workers to deal with calls regarding unhoused or mentally ill individuals.
- Design community immersion programs that will help keep officers accountable by demanding that they live within a certain radius of the community they work in. If complications arise, officers should spend time doing volunteer work in the community they wish to police.
- End qualified immunity, especially in cases where an officer uses extreme force and/or disobeys the law.
- Extend training for officers and set up systems for them to hold each other accountable on the ground.
- Diversify: In the U.S., the number of women in the police force has been stagnant at 12% for the last 30 years. The police force must be diversified to represent the community it’s policing.
- End incentivized arrest of civilians.