Police brutality and misconduct have a long and ugly history in our country. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many other Black people who have been victims of institutional violence, have prompted heated discussion around the demands of defunding the police.
I would like to clarify that defunding the police does not mean getting rid of police departments, as some people assume.
While defunding the police could be a first step in disbanding police departments, defunding means reducing the money that cities use to fund their police departments.
The money saved could then be reinvested into marginalized communities and enhance services for citizens living in those communities. These services might include trauma centers, career development and violence-prevention programs, to name a few.
Baltimore as an example, is one of many cities in the U.S. that allocates a large chunk of their budget to funding their police departments. This past summer, Baltimore’s City council voted on cutting $22.4 million from the Baltimore Police Department’s (BPD) $550 million budget for this coming year. While this is a start, it is only reducing the department’s budget by less than 5%, which is hardly a substantial amount.
To further contextualize how much money Baltimore spends on law enforcement, with the cuts the BPD gets $527.6 million while only $42.1 million is budgeted to go to the Housing Department’s community development budget.
That said, it is important to note that around 23% of Baltimore’s population lives below the poverty line — which is almost double the national average of 12.7% — with people of color comprising the majority of this demographic. If the city were to allocate their funds in a more practical manner, the money currently spent on the police could instead be designated to create affordable housing.
Additionally, because countless numbers of people in urban areas face food insecurity, cities would be able to redirect these police funds to promoting economic growth within marginalized communities by investing in local businesses, such as grocery stores.
One of the central arguments against defunding the police is that if police departments are forced to downsize their staff and resources, violence will increase.
However, it is important to recognize that the police do not necessarily prevent violence and crime from happening; they mainly respond to incidents of violence and crime — and the way in which they go about responding is often problematic, causing the situation to escalate.
In many cases, the police are ill-equipped and ineffectively respond to situations involving people with mental health issues, often with the use of unnecessary violence, as exemplified by the death of Daniel Prude who was recently killed by police in Rochester, New York. His life could have been saved if the appropriate people like mental health professionals were deployed to this high-stress crisis. Consequently, it’s only apt that mental health professionals, those who are experts in helping the ill and de-escalating precarious situations, serve as the first response units in these events.
Marginalized communities are also looking into police alternatives, such as community patrols, because many feel that the police inflict mass damage onto their communities, specifically among people of color.
Black American men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than white men, and Black women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by the police than white women in the U.S. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report examining data from 2015 revealed that police officers in the U.S. “killed 1,098 people, 24% of whom were black despite African Americans representing only 13% of the US population.”
Likewise, it’s vital to recognize the racist origins of the police as this body of authority was first erected to serve as slave patrols who were responsible for monitoring slaves, catching runaway slaves and intercepting plans for slave revolts.
Although the police have evolved since the mid 1800s, this institution has solidified the systematic racism that is embedded in this country. Therefore, it should come to no surprise that people of color harbor a deep sense of mistrust for the police. Oftentimes, many do not think to call them out of fear for their lives. Thus, our taxpayer money is wasted on a system that does not protect citizens, and could instead be used to uplift these communities.
As powerfully stated by The Movement for Black Lives “Invest-Divest” platform members, “We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people.”
Written by Niara Richards, Africana Studies and Acting major, Music: Vocal Performance minor, Class of 2022