The last several months have been tense, to put it mildly. Alongside the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been several high profile examples of police brutality against Black victims. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained additional energy and attention, with protests continuing across the planet.
One concept that is gaining traction as a solution to the continued oppressive, racially prejudiced actions of law enforcement personnel is the defunding of police forces. This isn’t a new issue, of course. Racial bias has long been a problem in law enforcement. With each new brutal encounter, from Rodney King to Breonna Taylor, there have been calls to combat the police’s increasingly militant and militarized tactics. Reducing police budgets provides fewer resources to those who use them to persecute minorities from behind a mask of authority and more to those who wish to provide education to the populace, the police included. Though defunding has become a buzzword, there are still those who don’t quite grasp the meaning of it. There’s a tendency to think that reallocation of funds means the abolition of police.
For the concept to be given the consideration it deserves, the public must be educated on what it could actually look like. What are the benefits? How does it function practically? We’re going to take a closer look at a few key areas of focus.
One of the prime tenets of defunding the police is not necessarily to make them defunct but to provide resources that empower communities to settle disputes without them. The goal of this is the removal of the disproportionate police presence in Black communities, thereby reducing the potential for deaths resulting from police brutality. It also minimizes the use of common racially targeted law enforcement activities, such as unwarranted stop-and-search, which does little but exacerbate tensions and reinforce oppression.
In general, Black communities don’t feel that the police keep them safe — quite the opposite. If the police were considered a positive presence, there wouldn’t be the need for each generation of Black parents and siblings to teach younger generations how not to get killed during traffic or street stops. Therefore it’s a much more effective approach to redirect police funding toward training community leaders methods of effective conflict resolution.
This community-focused action is commonly known as violence interruption. It considers violence as a public health problem, rather than a criminal issue, and removes police from the equation. Instead, organizations such as Cure Violence train mediators to work with their own communities to treat the root causes of violence in much the same way public health workers do with disease.
They take the time to understand the nuances of the issues that are occurring and push toward long-term prevention, rather than taking the reactionary approach to violent symptoms.
Reinvesting in Education
Among the most important areas to redirect police funding is education. Giving kids greater resources and opportunities for learning can have a significant effect on crime rates. Studies show that states that have focused their resources toward education — not just schooling but university financial support — have lower levels of arrests and incarceration. Let’s face it, education provides us all with something that policing generally doesn’t: hope for a better future.
The truth is, public schools have been the victim of repeated budget cuts that police departments haven’t. Redirecting funds to schools can take the pressure off of underpaid teachers who too often have to use their own funds to purchase materials. It’s not just about buying books either, it’s also about providing the right environment for learning. Small investments like lockers that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are crucial in improving inclusivity in schools. Making kids feel safe, comfortable, and welcome in schools goes a long way toward encouraging a long-term academic career.
It’s also vital to understand that redirecting funding toward education has to go further than those few hours spent within the confines of the school. Extracurricular activities and learning have the potential to open kids up to ideas and nurture talents that may go unnoticed during academic time. Studying subjects such as music and the arts at home is known to have positive holistic effects on children. It does more than improve their academic performance, it enriches their lives. When we defund police and redirect capital here, it means giving more young people from diverse backgrounds the tools to thrive.
Stronger Social Support
To frame defunding as a serious possibility, it’s important to demonstrate why the alternative recipients of the funding make a difference. In many ways, the key is understanding that using police in many scenarios is the use of a blunt instrument. The militarized approach of the police toward Black communities gives the impression that many law enforcement professionals believe most problems should be met with force.
Common sense and ethics aside, the statistics show that this isn’t an appropriate response. Reports on dispatches suggest that the majority of calls to police are for non-violent issues. So why do we send armed police to handle issues such as mental health welfare checks? Recently a 13-year-old boy in Salt Lake City was shot by police. His mother had called 911 for assistance as her son was experiencing a mental health crisis. Had this call been attended by mental health professionals rather than armed law enforcement, the issue would have been handled with care, rather than force. By shifting funding from the police to social services, we can ensure there are the resources for emergency medical and therapeutic personnel — people who understand the nuances of these conditions and provide effective and peaceful solutions.
Similarly, redirecting funding also helps to tackle some of the root causes of crimes before they occur. Better mental health support in the community may help to reduce stigma, which in itself is often a barrier to engaging with professional services for those who really need them. Reducing poverty and homelessness can reduce crimes linked to necessity. Providing drug rehabilitation and treatment can reduce dependence on and dealership of illegal substances. In truth, while the issue of defunding has arisen from police violence against Black individuals, it can make all communities holistically better.
The Black Lives Matter movement has given additional energy and spotlight to various community issues. Among these, defunding the police has the potential to create positive change for a diverse range of communities. It is not about the abolition of law enforcement, rather it’s redirecting funds to areas where they can make the best possible difference.
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