The Weekend Edition – “Defund the police”
Law and order.
Crime and punishment.
What do these phrases really mean?
Without sinking to the over-simplified and nouveau cynical sophistry of a second year Philosophy Major at the University, how do we go about deconstructing the bases of our failing system of justice and the institutions of law enforcement that have purported to serve us in that regard for so long that we can scarcely manage to consider an alternative without some sort of populist panic attack at the mere suggestion thereof…
“Defund the police ?!?!”
“Are you insane ?!?!”
Well, no, actually… and even the staid and somewhat conservative corporate media in America have begun to take a second look at what might have been considered the pipe dream of anarchists only two weeks past. For instance… in an article from Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) which organization is dedicated to serving as a watchdog for the media and calling out its pretentious bias, I read about a Washington Post editorial that surprised me, because the Post seldom embraces even normative progressive notions much less so radical a concept as “defund the police”…
From the FAIR article…
“The Washington Post editorial board (6/9/20)—not known for its friendliness to revolutionary ideas—called the “provocative slogan…a welcome call to reimagine public safety in the United States.” The editorial asked whether police really ought to be responding to mental health emergencies, dealing with homelessness, and funding local governments by “extracting fees from citizens,” and opined that “onlookers are rightfully alarmed at plans to slash social services while sparing police budgets.”
Even though the conversation in the media at large is not being ridiculed as a rule, the “defund the police” concept is more often “described” in ways that tend to remove its more startling implications and the coverage often downplays its radical intent. Here is the link to the full article from the website at FAIR.ORG
It always makes me nervous when people begin to talk about the times we live in as one of those mist-inducing “historical moments”… an evocative phrase that often serves to presage decades of disinterest… or, at the very least, an accelerated blowback of regret following what I like to call “conceptual sticker-shock.” Cultural paralysis sometimes accompanies radical movements like a shadow. It’s brought on by the eventual recognition of the cost, the enormity of the tasks involved. It’s a process. First, there’s a brief period of euphoric dialogue replete with bright, new, shiny buzz words. “Experts” start to emerge from the wainscoting like Carolina cockroaches in a house afire and they are everywhere, writing books, showing up on MSNBC. There is a fervor that lasts for a while, but the harsh reality of the hard work that’s needed eventually triggers mind-numbing public apathy. Yes, every good and worthy idea has its moment, but it needs more than champions or enthusiasm. These days, new ideas need a think tank and think tanks are funded by people who piffle and tosh at the mere mention of those pulse-quickening, often revolutionary phrases and slogans that clash with their privilege.
“Defund the police ?!?!”
“What… are you some kind of anarchist ?!?!”
The concept is not new by any means, but it’s not a subject that has reached the public discourse until recently and, as often happens when the public is made suddenly aware of a new and radical concept, especially as it pertains to extreme alteration of existing institutions, the public is more immediately exposed to explanations about what it means by the people who are opposed to those ideas at the outset because they are unsettling to people whose lives derive purpose and a sense of security within existing circumstance. They enjoy enormous benefit and privilege from the status quo. Because they oppose it, their interpretation is distorted to fit the negative frame through which they would like us to view it.
So… back to the question. What is actually meant by the words, “defund the police” when they are used by protesters against police aggression and the seemingly constant threat and growing incidence of violence from law enforcement officers, more specifically to black men almost everywhere in America? More importantly, when you hear those words… defund the police… what do you think it means? Sometimes the answer is obvious, self-evident, but not in this case… or rather, it’s meaning may be obvious but it is also an incomplete statement. The people who advocate the concept within the larger context of its origin in the prison abolition movement… what do they say it means?
“Say what ?!?! Prison abolition? Now you want to shut down all the prisons ?!?! What? You wanna put Charlie Manson back on the street? What’s with you people?”
Let’s take a look at the movement and what it is trying to accomplish.
Angela Davis, a longtime advocate for both the abolition of prisons and radical alteration of our policing institutions, speaking with Amy Goodman during an interview on DemocracyNow! said this about defunding the police and what is meant in terms of the abolitionist movement…
“Well, the call to defund the police is, I think, an abolitionist demand, but it reflects only one aspect of the process represented by the demand. Defunding the police is not simply about withdrawing funding for law enforcement and doing nothing else. And it appears as if this is the rather superficial understanding that has caused (Former Vice President and Democratic Presidential candidate) Biden to move in the direction he’s moving in.
“It’s about shifting public funds to new services and new institutions — mental health counselors, who can respond to people who are in crisis without arms. It’s about shifting funding to education, to housing, to recreation. All of these things help to create security and safety. It’s about learning that safety, safeguarded by violence, is not really safety.” (Italics used for emphasis here are mine.) Here is a link to the full interview with Angela Davis at DEMOCRACY NOW! It’s an excellent discussion. Worth the time it takes to listen.
Meanwhile… let’s get down to simple things… facts unimpeded by rhetoric. An honest assessment informs us that we employ the police to do our dirty work. We expect them to handle the people who embarrass our sense of civility and order.
What is the nexus of the circumstance, though? Where do we derive our justification for the punishment of crime as opposed to the social failures that create behavior and circumstances, conditions we define as “criminal”? Is our perception of the problems even based on truth… on the substance of facts? For instance… is there a drug problem? Or is there a hole in peoples’ lives they seek to fill with narcotics of every description… with or without a prescription? Is there a homeless problem with people sleeping in doorways, parking lots, abandoned homes and alleyways? Or is there a growing number of people living on an economic edge… such that every economic crisis bumps more of them out of their jobs and out of their homes, renders them desperate, friendless, and out on the street in far less time than it takes most people to recover?
Isn’t it simpler to skip the research, grab a handy answer and ignore the real cause of any embarrassing segment of the population than to solve the problems that create their loathsome situation? It’s definitely more profitable for some people when we look the other way and let someone else do all the work. And considering the optimistic projections of growth in the for-profit prison industry, the business of crime and punishment is indeed a lucrative investment.
We’ve made the victim of our social failures a criminal by way of laws invented for that purpose. We put him in prison and… voila! A ready-made profitable source of cheap captive labor. Never mind that with our lack of interest, we’ve enabled an institution that could be called a twenty-first century brand of slavery, but hey… talk like that would be too honest. Nobody wants to imagine they bear any responsibility for something like that. However, in a government that purports to be of, for, and by the people, we are very much responsible for the perverse actions of our institutions.
Don’t l;ook to Congress to do anything about this. They are… and they have been the enablers. The prison-industrial complex has lobbies that are financially outgunned by no one else on the Hill… other than those who work in the military-industrial complex, but that’s a whole ‘nuther smoke. To be sure, for-profit prisons have many friends in Washington… and in both major Parties.
So… this is the endgame. If you outlaw poverty… outlaw drug dependency… you can build an entire and uniquely profitable industry. It’s the American way. Capitalism in its highest form.
But times and perceptions are changing.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of that change that I’ve seen is a trend that popped up in the last few days… that of cable networks cancelling the cop shows, those real-life, light-em-up, chase-em-down cop shows, you know. You’ve seen them yourself, the ones where a cast of somewhat photogenic, but genuine cops are shown forever tagging people for suspicious behavior. They tag people driving, tag people walking, tag people standing on corners… forever tagging people with conditions that more often than not include being poor… or a POC… or both. These cops are lighting them up, pulling them over, checking them for wants and warrants, “smelling” marijuana in their cars, calling in Officer Bruno with the biceps and his drug-sniffing pup… dismantling the people’s cars on the side of the road while the people sit handcuffed, perplexed on the curb. Entertainment. It’s been going on for years… cops arresting people, driving them off in the cubicle cage on seats without cushions in the back of their squad cars. Driving them off to the labyrinth of plea-bargaining, intimidation, exploitation, and endless incarcerations that we have the stones to call our criminal “justice” system.
Non-violent crime mostly.
“Bad boy. Bad boy.” Really?
Petty crime. Pay the fine or do the time.
But if you don’t have any money, you’re screwed.
People have problems, but instead of helping them deal with their circumstances, we hold them to standards that require them to have some measure of personal wealth. Poverty is a crime. Homelessness is a crime. Dependency and just plain bad damn luck… all crimes. We criminalize their conditions, circumstances that are a reflection of our own disinterest… the result of society’s failure. We can no longer deny the violence and the racism that exists as a serious and dangerous problem in many police departments and in many law enforcement agencies, some of which have an institutional flair for bigotry.
It’s out there and it is self-evident… an uncomfortable and nagging presence in our public discourse. It’s in your face, America, now that cameras are everywhere and it can no longer be hidden by lies. Though some may be willing to condone the oppression, the violence… the greater majority of Americans, the people who either understand their own culpability or, by virtue of the color of their skin, they see their own present danger in that very real threat and are no longer willing to tolerate the injustice. Their voice is loud and their demands will be heard.
“Defund the police.” What does it mean?
Only this… and it’s not a mystery… deconstruct the failing institution and replace it with other and better and more focused institutions(plural) that serve humanity, not the sacred pillars of American exceptionalism, profit, and privilege. Address the problems not the symptoms. Help the people who are presently oppressed by our laws and the enforcement thereof instead of criminalizing their existence and their needs.
It’s really that simple.
And for those of you who think the Founding Fathers were using their Bibles as a foundation for our Constitution, you’ll be pleased to know that this kind of a fix is right in line and in perfect agreement with the ideas and precepts that are outlined in your leather-bound King James Edition… especially the parts that are printed in red.
It’s really rather simple. Well, maybe not so simple to get it done, considering how much work is involved and how difficult it is to gt people to act… but it’s easy enough to understand. The hard part is overcoming the fearful reactions of people who are not now affected by the injustice inherent in the system, the ones who want to know if their property will be safe without an army of men suited up, locked and loaded, ready at the drop of a dime to kill or be killed in order to protect what they have. Safety… as though what we have at the present time comes anywhere near to a condition that could be described as “safe.”
“Okay, enough. I get it… so how do we fix it?”
That’s not something we can cover without some background in depth. A sound byte won’t do the job. We’ll talk about that some more next week on the Weekend Edition of The Peoples’ Daily Brief, but for now, let me leave you a link to a recent op-ed that explains the thinking of activists who are involved with fixing the problem today… right now… in Minneapolis.
Here is a relevant extract from an op-ed describing their work, from Jae Hyun Shim, as it appeared in Truthout…
“No sweeping, structural change can happen overnight. And the transition to a police-free Minneapolis will be intentional, measured and collaborative. Right now, it is important to understand that Minneapolis residents have already been taking care of each other, and we will continue to. It’s also worth recognizing that prison abolition is not a reaction to a moment, but a long-time movement backed by decades of Black radical thinking and experience.
“In the past two weeks since Mr. Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of the MPD, Minneapolis has seen community members step up to fill the gaps where our city, state and county systems have failed us. We’ve created community fire brigades, a people’s ambulance, a transit support system, food banks and hot meal bars, and community safety and defense teams. There have been informal teach-ins, and petitions to cut MPD contracts from museums, business events and schools. Neighbors are talking to each other and actually getting to know who lives on their street.”
Want to know more? Here is a link to the full article on-line at TRUTHOUT
In Baltimore, similar movements are underway as expressed in an article by Jaisal Noor in the REAL news network online.
“…activists argue grassroots-led efforts that operate on a shoe-string budget have far better results in reducing violence than Baltimore’s scandal-ridden police department.
“’We know for a fact that programs like Safe Streets, community mediations…work, and need to be brought to scale,’ said Hayes.
“Studies have found the Baltimore Ceasefire movement, which fights violence through outreach, connecting vulnerable populations with resources and by building community, reduced shootings by 52 percent. Meanwhile Safe Streets has been credited with reducing shootings by over 50%.
“Hayes says opposition to defunding the police is rooted in racist views that Black communities need policing instead of the investment in education and other social services given to affluent, white communities.
“’It shows that they are not ready to redefine what public safety looks like,’ says Hayes. ‘I challenge them to follow Black leadership, and trust we have thought about this for a while and that we’re ready to create a pathway to make that happen.’”
Here is a link to the full article at The Real News
People are dying. Too often, black men are being murdered by the very people we have ordained to “serve and protect” them. The old message of reform has proven to be little more than lip service that results in more funding, more police, more weapons, more oppression, less safety, less service, less protection, less justice and, now… murder.
That’s enough of that. Get radical. Get real.
Defund the police. It’s time.
Peoples’ Daily Brief by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.