'DEFUND THE POLICE': REINVENTING HOW WE THINK ABOUT POLICING





June 20, 2020
By Luis Alejandro



Amidst George Floyd’s horrific death and the murders of other innocent African-Americans (such as Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor), a new wave of political activism and engagement has emerged. More and more people are fed up with the injustices that the marginalized communities of this country face, particularly our black and brown working class and working poor communities. This newfound insurgence of political activism has swayed much of public opinion and has really brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of our political discourse. While some participants in peaceful protests and social media activism call for police reform, most are pushing for a different philosophy: defunding the police entirely. But what does that mean, exactly, and what does it actually look like? Minneapolis’s recent ruling to dismantle its police force has sent shock waves throughout the country and made this conversation even more legitimate. Is the complete abolition of police on its way? If so, what will that mean for ‘law and order’ as we know it in our communities?





We can better understand the bigger picture by exploring the two camps of this debate. On one hand, we have the group interested in reformation, with faces such as Joe Biden, former President Obama, and Democratic party leadership. Their calls to prohibit the use of chokeholds and ban ‘no knock’ warrants align with the mindset that the fundamental problems with policing lie within a few bad apples and a lack of transparency or accountability. Note that while these are all good-intentioned reforms, they leave in place the institution that is currently shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters. The structural and systemic issues with the police force in the United States are ignored when reforms are prioritized. Such an approach continues the war on people of color while allowing police to take credit for making changes that are unlikely to be enforced.


The other side of this conversation exists as the “defund the police” movement. Minneapolis’s advancement in dismantling the police force falls into this approach. At its core, the movement outlines that our fundamental reliance on police to resolve a vast majority of our problems is a disservice to any community (particularly low income, brown and black areas). We are expected to rely on police, despite their lack of deescalation training, for situations regarding homelessness, mental illness, ‘crime’, etc. Police cannot solve the underlying causes of these problems, and only deal with them on a case by case, often violent basis. As American political activist Angela Davis, a crucial voice in this discussion, puts it, “[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.”


Angela Davis, who was attacked for decades for her involvement with the Black Panthers, Communist Party, and Black feminist movement (to name a few), is renowned for her ideas on prison abolition and her visionary outlook on how the institutionalized racism of this country has failed black people. Her work highlights the fallacious concept of police reform, and points out the historical continuation of malpractice towards people of color (particularly African-Americans) despite many instances of alleged reform. Even today, we’ve seen consistent violations of constitutional protections, such as ignoring the ‘knock and announce’ rule of the Fourth Amendment during the murder of Breonna Taylor.


Davis’s advocacy notes how reforms can actually strengthen the police system, when it should be replaced with something else entirely. She often refers to the ‘prison industrial complex’, a term conveying the utter reliance on prisons and punitive measures to solve societal problems (rather than community rehabilitation). Her trailblazing voice and advocacy for the betterment of brown and black lives remains at the heart of the ‘defund the police’ movement, and continues to strengthen such calls for change today.







As we examine historical activist groups such as the Los Angeles Chapter of the Black Panther Party and the Brown Berets (a pro-Chicano organization that started in the late 1960’s), we’re reminded that police brutality affects Latinx and Afro-Latinx people as well as the Black community. As mentioned in the LA Times, the populations disproportionately affected by police violence are consistently Black and Latinx. In the last 20 years, the LAPD has killed 887 people; 53% of those victims were Latinx, and 25% were Black. Black people make up 8% of L.A. County’s population, yet they represent a quarter of law enforcement killings. We further understand how sharp of a contrast this is when white people, who make up 26% of the population, are killed in 19% of the incidents. The disproportionate killing of black and brown people is clear as day and goes to show that the system at hand does not work to protect or support our communities.


The core demand of this movement is quite simple: cut the police budget and shift the funding to benefit our communities. If we invest in our education, mental health, and other infrastructure instead of unjustly policing our cities, they’re more likely to develop and improve.


As American political commentator and radio host David Sirota points out, while much of our country’s schools and infrastructure have been financially gutted, state and local funding for police departments has “far outpaced population growth, and drained resources from other public priorities.” According to Urban Institute data, between 1977 and 2017, America’s population grew by about 50 percent, while state and local spending on police grew by a whopping 173 percent (adjusted for inflation).


What about San Diego, considered by many to be a more ‘progressive’ city? Alongside the blatant brutality that cops have shown over the past weeks of peaceful protests, a simple look at budgets can give you a better idea of how much power the police truly have. San Diego’s City Council heard over 12 hours of calls from their constituents, begging them to vote against the Mayor’s proposed $27 million police budget increase, and still managed to completely ignore public concerns with an 8-1 decision in favor of the proposal. Budgets are testament to what our government prioritizes. In Chula Vista, a city in San Diego County, police expenditures amounted to over $52 million for the 2020 fiscal year. While they increase our police department budget, the Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista continues to combat a $30 million shortfall, cutting 12 alternative Learning Centers and approximately 237 teachers, counselors, and librarians. This is not an alienated problem found in one police department or county, but a pressing issue that lies in each of our communities; our police forces have become more funded and militarized throughout the country, revealing that racialized violence is prioritized over community resources.


The idea of defunding or abolishing the police can seem frighteningly radical to some, especially in the face of national riots. However, taking a step back and noting the police’s response to peaceful protests against their mistreatment of Black people- a demand that, put simply, is not asking much- shows that the power structures created by law enforcement are not sustainable or safe. When we say abolish the police, we mean abolish law enforcement as we know it: a corrupt, outdated idea built on systemic racism. What if, instead of expecting inadequately trained individuals to punitively fix every societal problem, we invested in community led measures to ensure deescalation without violence? What if we redistributed police funding into providing livable resources for all, repairing our educational system, and building restorative justice programs to negate ‘crime’ in the first place? It's time to not only dismantle the police, but rebuild an institution that supports its constituents- regardless of race, gender, and identity.


Keep advocating for justice in your communities and take note of local politics. Our city council members and city officials are all ‘public servants’- meaning if they cannot serve the needs of their constituents, then we must use our power to vote them out. Contact your district's city council members and hold them accountable for the choices they make for your communities!

https://www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil

https://www.usa.gov/local-governments

Edited by Bella Perreira