On June 7, 2020, 9 members of the Minneapolis City Council announced that they were intending to work toward a path of defunding and dismantling the current policing system in their city. Jeremiah Ellison, a city councilman for the district’s 5th ward, realized the necessity for the creation of an entirely new system: “We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response.” This announcement comes almost two weeks after the violent and disturbing death of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Protesters pressured the mayor and the council to take dramatic action in terms of the fight against systemic racism. Minneapolis is not the only city in the United States that featured protesters calling for “#defundthepolice,” however. This catchphrase has become a rallying cry and a clear demand from the proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement to reform the police from the ground up. While some critics have painted this idea as synonymous with abolishing the police, outspoken protesters and lawmakers in Congress have made it clear that defunding the police would not lead to outright abolition; rather, cities must look to refurbishing and building up their cities and allocate resources to underprivileged communities instead of giving all of these funds to the police. While some argue that more money should be put into police departments to provide for adequate training, funding should be taken from the Minneapolis Police Department and put into underserved communities in order to assist with homelessness, mental health crises, and disparities in education in an effort to form a more community-based system.
COMMUNAL POLICING IN BRITAIN
Before delving into the reasons why defunding the police is imperative, it is important to compare our current policing system with a country’s system that this movement is striving to be like: Great Britain. In Robert Peel’s 9 Principles of Policing, it is said that “the power of the police…is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour.” Robert Peel is regarded as the father of modern British policing, serving as Home Secretary and Prime Minister. It is clear that Peel desired honesty and transparency from his police forces. He believed that the public deserved to know exactly what the police were doing and how they were achieving their goals. This ensures that the public trusts the police and are confident in the police’s ability to keep them safe. This is a stark contrast to how many citizens in the United States view the police, especially because of recent events. It appears that negative views surrounding the police have never been more prevalent because people cannot comprehend the reasons why police officers employ excessive force and unnecessary harm when serving their community. There is no excuse, as the United Kingdom’s policing has worked for over a hundred years. Furthermore, Peel writes that “the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder…not the visible evidence of police action.” Peel believed that the police’s job was to examine the root causes of an issue and deliver their findings to lawmakers, not just blindly enforce the law. This is what defunding the police would achieve, as communities would be rebuilt, reducing the number of police callings and appearances.
The first area where a certain number of police funds could go is to address the issue of homelessness in urban areas. Some people in cities treat the issue of homelessness as extremely harmful to them: it was found that over 90% of police and homeless interactions in San Francisco were initiated through complaints. This demonstrates that individuals, not just in California, utilize the police as a way to complain about anything and everything in their lives. If the police officers were not always ready at the disposal of their citizens for every little matter, people would not be nearly as inclined to call them, as they would see the police as truly an emergency service. The fact that the police are not doing anything to combat the homelessness in their area shows that people blow things way out of proportion because they know that they have a 24/7 service that is ready to hear every minor remonstrance about the state of affairs. Also, economic, drug, and mental health-related factors are often the root cause of homelessness. This is the idea behind defunding the police. Police abolition would not occur, but more local resources would go toward solving the issues like mental health and the drug crisis that lead to rampant homelessness. Pooling more resources and investing more education and social awareness surrounding these issues would lead to a smaller number of instances of homelessness and would lead to fewer calls having to be made to the police. Having the police around less often would lead to individuals not feeling so attached to them, and they could learn that they do not have to be summoned all the time.
PSYCHIATRIC ILLNESS AND CRIMINALITY
In addition to homelessness being at the center of attention when pooling police funds and resources, special care and attention must be given to those who are suffering silently from mental illness and psychiatric disorders. Due to popular forms of media and film, those with mental health disorders are often posited as deranged and beyond help. These individuals are more likely to be written off as criminals and not deserving of help; therefore, community members will naturally feel more at ease if these people are locked up behind bars. Instead of trying to help and support those sick with mental illness, it is much easier for people to put them in prison and forget about them. Further, data shows that those with mental health challenges are disproportionately incarcerated not because they commit more heinous crimes, but because police officers are not trained to handle these individuals properly. In other words, the police are lacking formal training when it comes to mental health and are ignorant of the effects. The police are just arresting them for “law and order” purposes without a clear reason for doing so. There is bias surrounding those with mental health disorders, as some public officials turn a blind eye toward them. Making officers aware of community members with mental illness and providing them with proper training will stop the police from arresting these people without a reason and will promote a discussion surrounding the necessity of the recognition of mental health issues.
FIXING THE WEALTH DISPARITIES IN EDUCATION
The easiest way to judge a community, arguably, is the way in which it treats its children. Specifically, one must examine the quality and equality of the education system for all children. Sadly, however, the education system is far from fair in communities across the United States. A study found that nonwhite school districts receive $23 billion less than white districts, even when the number of students in these districts is accounted for. In order for communities to thrive, we must begin at the schools. Equal education is one way to ensure that everyone in the United States starts off on the same intellectual playing field. Getting an education is the door to the future. From an early age, we are telling children in underserved and underprivileged communities that they should be satisfied with an incomplete education. This is the wrong message to send. This fact is made possible because states continue to fund their education through property taxes, continuing to disadvantage those in poverty. This leads to a perpetual cycle of poverty, as schools that receive less funding cannot provide for their students. In a paper published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, it was found that increases in school funding due to lawsuits led to increased years of schooling and higher wages in the future. Therefore, communities need to recognize the value of education and pour additional resources into funding of these schools to guarantee that everyone has a fair chance.
SHOULDN’T MORE MONEY GO TOWARD THE POLICE?
A common counter to the idea of abolishing and taking lots of money out of police departments is the idea that the opposite should occur: more money should be placed into police departments in order to further train police officers and to allow them to grow and change as human beings as they recognize that inclusiveness is the right approach to policing. Proponents of this belief say that taking money away from the police would discourage the police officers from making changes in their daily ways of operation. This line of reasoning, however, demonstrates how we have been indoctrinated all of our lives to believe that all police officers are heroic and that all of our problems can be solved by policing and caging wrongdoers. Reforming the police through liberal means has been tried and tested throughout history, but it has never worked. Holding officers accountable has never worked either. Take Derek Chauvin, for instance: he had accumulated 17 misconduct complaints, but his employers failed to recognize his abuse of power. We see this in the protests that continue to occur: officers breaking the rules and injuring citizens, knowing that no one will stop them because the system has worked in their favor over and over again. A world with fewer police is very possible; we can come together out of respect for our community and focus our efforts on revamping our cities from the ground up. It is time that we choose togetherness over self-preservation and realize how collectively strong we can be.
Fortunately, there are a couple of previously established organizations that have already begun the fight against over-policing; these establishments focus their efforts on community rehabilitation and accountability.
- National Association for Community Mediation. They define community mediation as “constructive processes for resolving differences.” This could serve as an enhancement to policing in the short term and even take over from policing in the long term. Community mediation really focuses on actually having a conversation with one’s adversary and getting to the root cause of the issue. A lot of policing involves the cops investigating one side of the story. This “marriage counseling” approach from community mediation, however, attempts to resolve issues without excessive attention from officials.
- Cure Violence Global. This organization attempts to not only stop conflicts from escalating when they occur, but they also do their best to identify individuals or groups that are likely to commit violent acts. Activists from the organization work with these groups in order to decrease the likelihood of an episode; they point these people to resources in order to fully address the issues that they may be having.
If you have the means to do so, please consider donating some money to these organizations and support them in their endeavor to move toward a community-based system. They have already seen incredible results as they work to put community first.
In these tumultuous times, it is now more important than ever that we come together as a community. Let this be the driving force as we move toward a more equitable and sustainable country as one people.