Many of those taking part in the nationwide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd are calling for local officials to defund the police. They see law enforcement as the enemy. They view police as the cause of so many evils that have fallen largely on minorities.
Is this the solution or is it a knee-jerk reaction to a long-standing problem?
Police brutality, particularly against minorities, is nothing new. Singer Marvin Gaye released the protest anthem “What’s Going On” in 1971. Racial profiling, Stop and Frisk and redlining have been used for years to target and restrict minority populations.
During the recent protests, when my area was under a curfew, I had a conversation with an African-American co-worker. I commented that I was concerned about possibly driving home after the curfew had been enacted. I further added, I wasn’t as concerned with myself, and elderly white male, as I was for my African-American colleagues. Seeing what happened to a college student in Atlanta, I expressed my concern, to which my co-worker merely shrugged and muttered the non-sequitur, “It is what it is”.
While I will never fully comprehend the fear a person of color must feel when approached by a member of law enforcement, I can empathize with the emotional turmoil and yes, resentment, they must be experiencing.
Yet, defunding the police is not the answer. Police serve a vital role in our communities. Their motto, “To Protect and Serve” is one most officers abide by. Without police bringing people to justice, and indeed, serving as a deterrent to wrongdoing, there would be chaos because there would be no one to stop criminals from terrorizing their neighborhoods.
Predictably, lawmakers are seeing this as a polarizing issue. Democrats, while supporting protestors, feel defunding the police is going too far. Many Republicans, led by Donald Trump, are pushing for stricter actions against those who violate curfews that many cities imposed in response to sometimes violent actions by certain protestors.
Stuck in the middle are members of law enforcement, who are tasked with the duty of enforcing curfews while maintaining public order. Yet, even in the midst of this, there are members of law enforcement, despite being under the watchful eye of multiple cell phone cameras, who have beaten, abused and even assaulted protestors.
But is the answer to defund the police? That would be akin to getting rid of a mole by cutting off your arm.
Included in this proposal are ending the use of chokeholds to detain a suspect, making lynching a federal crime, creating a national police misconduct registry to prevent police from going from one city or state where their previous acts can be overlooked, mandating racial bias training, requiring officers to have the “duty to intervene” when another officer is viewed as overreacting to a suspect, and limiting the use of military grade weapons by members of local and state law enforcement.
Of course, Republicans have declared this plan dead on arrival in the Senate as Trump claims to champion “law and order” even as his attorney general used tear gas and rubber bullets to push back peaceful protestors so he could have his Bible toting photo op.
The Democratic approach is a measured response to our current crisis. While not a perfect solution, it aims at addressing many of the wrongs Colin Kaepernick sought to address when he took to one knee to draw attention to police brutality.
There needs to be reform in law enforcement. Replacing or defunding existing institutions without a viable alternative is not the answer.