The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.
Even though the conversations around Black Lives Matter has existed since 2013, it has increasingly been in the news lately in response to the unjust deaths of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd. Protests and calls to defund the police have ensued nationwide as conversations about police brutality are finally happening. However, reactions to “defund the police” have been mixed at best. Former President Barack Obama recently commented that the slogan “defund the police” is too snappy and that activists should rephrase the slogan to something less radical. So, what exactly is defunding the police?
Opponents of Black Lives Matter will have you believe that defunding the police is dissolving the entire police force to create a state of anarchy in the US in which crime rules all. However, defunding the police is actually a strategic plan to shift police funding to social services that can improve mental health, poverty, drug addiction, and homelessness, i.e. the primary motivators for crime in low SES areas.
By addressing the causes of crime, rather than the results of it, communities can become safer, lightening the workload of police officers. Data shows that 9 out of 10 police calls are for non-violent events. Mental health calls compose about 1 out of 10 police calls. However, 1 in 4 deaths from police shootings represent people with mental illnesses.
In cases of mental health, psychologists and mental health therapists are much better equipped to respond than police officers. Police officers are not trained to handle mental health issues in the manner that licensed therapists are. By pushing all of the wrongs of society onto police officers, we have dramatically diluted society’s ability to actually deal with the root of these issues.
Under the defunded model, police forces will still exist. They will just deal with more heinous crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and violent crimes, which is what they are trained to do. By reducing the burden on police officers to deal with everything wrong with society, they can focus more on the encounters that they are tasked with handling relating to crime. For example, the 200,000 rape kits that remain unprocessed in police stations can begin to be processed now. In addition, communities of color will feel more at ease knowing that they do not have to live in constant fear of the police. The Black Lives Matter movement recognizes the benefits of the police force while recognizing that there is tremendous reform and restructuring needed within the system before it becomes remotely capable of providing safety and justice for all.
Defunding the police will provide a means to revitalize black communities, specifically those with high crime rates as a result of homelessness and poverty. It will also allow us to create more jobs by increasing the budgets of departments that promote public safety and welfare in a non-violent manner, benefitting all of society. Police officers will still be able to retain their jobs, but with a reallocated focus. Defunding the police is one of the best answers that we have right now to police brutality and crime.
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