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  • Tsion Tessema

Defund the Police? Explaining the Movement Beyond Reform

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

It seems almost unimaginable. How can we defund and tear apart an institution that seems to have been around forever? To black communities, communities of color, and the Black Lives Matter movement, it is time to go beyond reform.

In fact, the people of Minneapolis have already started their agenda to defund their police in response to the unjust killings of George Floyd and the many other black lives stolen by police brutality.

The nation has grown tired, black people have grown tired, and I, too, have grown tired. We are all tired of black men and women losing their lives and turning into hashtags. This is why we are asking for more than just reform.

How many times have we turned to reform, hoping that new laws or policies will finally put an end to police brutality? Alone, reform does nothing. It has not held officers accountable for their on-duty crimes. Reform policies are often overlooked and swept under the rug when an officer “makes a mistake.”

We cannot afford to let officers continue to make these kind of mistakes, especially when their mistakes result in the loss of human lives. We cannot afford bad apples in a department meant to help us.

We have had to write explicit policies outlining the boundary between acceptable policing and racially motivated aggression and violence.

Even in its founding, the police were not created to prevent crimes, but rather to respond to them. Many may not know the deeply embedded racism that built this department. In the South, there were Slave Patrols. Then there were Jim Crow laws enforced by officers in response to the “lack of order” that the elites believed society was in.

We cannot turn a blind eye or ignore the past 400 years of oppression, which this institution has played a role in continuing. It is time that we take this opportunity and the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is at an all-time high, to advocate for something bigger: the defunding of the police.

Throughout my research, I battled with what it truly meant to defund the police. Some people want to disband the police force entirely. Whereas others want to reallocate funds to support social workers, mental health professionals, and education systems in low-income and marginalized communities. Reallocating funds to these departments will effectively help these communities, which are not provided access to quality social services.

Poor communities are more likely to be overpoliced, leading to negative interactions with officers who may have racial biases and are unable to properly assist them. Defunding the police will help reduce and prevent crimes while addressing the root of the causes, such as mental health issues, addiction, and poverty, which police are not equipped to handle.

In an interview with Alex Vitale, the author of The End of Policing, Vitale said, “When we turn a problem over to the police to manage, there will be violence, because those are ultimately the tools that they are most equipped to utilize: handcuffs, threats, guns, arrests. That's what really is at the root of policing. So if we don't want violence, we should try to figure out how to not get the police involved."

Instead of throwing more money at police departments to fix their long standing internal issues, it is vital to redefine the job of the police and to redirect funding to help and provide opportunities for black people and people of color, people who have long been a target of this institution.

Lastly, a life without as much police presence may seem scary to some people who are privileged enough to feel protected by this institution. But remember, this same institution has played a major role in enforcing the oppression of black people and people of color.

In your eyes, the police are the brave, blue lives who keep you and your family safe. In our eyes, the police are analogous to robbers. They are armed people who are motivated to steal our lives if they feel “threatened.” What is even worse is that they are likely to get away with it.

In D.C., penalties for armed robbery adds 30 years to a 2-15 years sentence if they were unarmed. What is the penalty for an armed officer who has stolen ayoung black life? In some cases like Darren Wilson’s, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, an officer can walk free.

In the recent case of George Floyd, Officer Chauvin would have had the same opportunity if it had not been for the national uproar, protests, and riots that rallied for his charges. While defunding the police may have scary implications, it can help to repair the damage that law enforcement has brought about through the wrongful deaths of unarmed African American men and women. It is a viable response to centuries of misuse of power and the abuse of the black community.

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