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Tag: racial discrimination

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.

How (and why) might we defund police?

It appears that when people say, “Defund the Police!” they often don’t mean completely. They usually appear not to mean “dismantle the police force and don’t replace it,” although some do. I started examining the ideas of abolishing or defunding the police in the previous post on this blog.

Defund the Police, like Abolish the Police, is an arresting (sorry), but inadequate slogan. Like most ideas, if you take the logic to its farthest extreme, it’s a terrible idea (hint: for real-life applications, never go to the farthest extreme). But people have begun to have valuable discussions about the way forward.

In this Kevin Siers cartoon, two protesters carry a large banner, emblazoned with a very long slogan that takes up several lines and goes off the edge of the cartoon. Part of it says, "Defund reform repair reeval ... improve rework reenvision ...reinvent cleanse reshape recreate ... Police." One says to the other, "We need a new slogan!"
(Kevin Siers cartoon courtesy of Charlotte Observer/McClatchey)

Deciphering what they actually mean

In the simplest statements I’ve heard, the idea is to reallocate some funds from the local police department. Then to spend them building up departments that would be more appropriate responders to certain kinds of situations. Police solutions often end with someone arrested or ticketed, possibly taken to jail. That’s appropriate for some things, but not for others.

For example, if it’s a mental health crisis, deploy some kind of mental health equivalent of EMTs (and yes, I know we don’t have those yet). This would radically reduce the number of incidents in which a mentally ill person in crisis (but mostly a danger only to themselves) isn’t confronted, further agitated, and then eventually killed by police.

Another example we often hear cited is when police are called to deal with persons experiencing homelessness. What do these people need? Certainly a better place to live. Many also need mental health counseling, physical health care, possibly addiction treatment, additional education so they can find a job, or other services. What can police do about them? Usually none of those things. They can arrest them, or force them to go somewhere else. That’s pretty much it.

A large, multi-spout teapot labeled "Defund the Police" pours tea into cups marked "education," "universal healthcare," "youth services," "housing," and "other community reinvestments."
(Illustration courtesy of Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter)

Why many say policing itself needs a re-think

Diversity training is only as good as the trainer who teaches, and the personal investment of the people who show up. Until individual officers take the messages to heart–and until there’s greater diversity and cross-cultural understanding in most police departments, cultural clashes will continue to fuel bad outcomes.

If the overall culture of the department doesn’t change (and changing police culture is an uphill climb), street-level outcomes won’t, either. Many American police are actively trained to distrust their communities, and to believe every encounter could end in violence against them. They are taught to “fear for their lives” almost as a default-setting. The “warrior” mindset of increased police militarization isn’t helping any of us.

Even when radical overhauls happen, there’s often still a gap between desire and result. It’s discouraging. But allowing ourselves to feel defeated and saying, “I give up” isn’t a sustainable solution. Sweeping problems (and problem officers) under the rug doesn’t work. Perpetuating and doubling-down on “how we’ve always done things” doesn’t cut it. We’ve been doing that for decades, and the results keep getting more extreme.

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.
A city worker power-washes “Defund the Police” from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta. When the protests subside, will calls for reform be as easy to erase or ignore? (Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

What is policing supposed to do?

It gets down to questioning the very purpose of policing. Why do we have police? To keep public order, so we feel safer in our neighborhoods? To respond to (or ideally limit/prevent) crimes such as murder, assault, rape, fraud, and similar invasions of property and person

Do they have a role in limiting vandalism, truancy, and roving bands of unoccupied youths, or should other programs address those ills?

Do we want police to prioritize our privacy and personal autonomy at the expense of the privacy and personal autonomy of others? How much governmental intrusion is acceptable, and are we okay with knowing that some people experience more heavy-handed treatment than others?

De-criminalizing our society

Many proposals start with a laundry-list of things to de-criminalize. I’ve already mentioned de-criminalizing homelessness in this article. A strong case also can be made for de-criminalizing addiction and drug possession

Much is made, in gun-violence arguments, of the urgent need for better mental health services. Yet we are a very long way from de-criminalizing mental illness and creating a robust safety net of mental health services.

De-criminalizing poverty is another consideration. We could do this in part by examining all proposed statutes, civil codes, and local ordinances to see which disproportionately afflict poor people. Another good starting place might be not over-policing poor and minority neighborhoods.

This cartoon by artist Barrie Maguire makes the point that de-criminalizing drug addiction would free up jail space.
Decriminalizing addiction, drug use and other “offenses” that could better be handled by other agencies would also free up jail space (Barrie Maguire cartoon courtesy of the Philadelpha Inquirer).

Where do we go from here?

Some”de-fund” arguments focus, not on policing itself, but on problems that perpetuate the conditions that encourage crime

Even before the pandemic threw them into glaring prominence, inequalities in educational opportunities, in health care, in food security and economic opportunity were major concerns. So it’s not surprising inequities claim prominent places on many people’s “to-reform” lists. Yet all of those things get less money from local governments than policing. Many cities’ biggest budget item is its public safety budget.

Some observers fear we’re rushing into things with half-baked approaches to revamping police forces or radically altering them. Others fear we’ll only use half-measures, then reluctant politicians will have an “out” to declare, “well, that didn’t work!” a few weeks or years from now.

But what if we were really serious about this? What if we actually tried a well-thought-out plan to readjust the way we do social well-being, including efforts to ensure law, order, and justice for everyone? For real.

I think we’re all still trying to figure out how that would look. But next week in this space, I’ll take a stab at relating my own vision and thoughts to my stories about policing in the future on Rana Station.


Many thanks to the Charlotte Observer/McClatchey, for the Kevin Sierscartoon. The “Defund the Police Teapot” illustration is from Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter. It appears to be a clever adaptation of a photo of an actual, multi-spout teapot from Tea Exporter India (now a defunct link) via Alobha Exim’s Pinterest board. The photo of the city worker power-washing the street in front of the Atlanta Police Department is by the formidable Alyssa Pointerof the Atlanta Journal-Constitution The remarkable Barrie Maguire (who also did a stint at Kansas City’s own Hallmark) is a marvelous fine-art painter of Irish-inspired work, but he also created cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer for a while, including this one dramatizing prison overcrowding.

Signs and signals of Jim Crow

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest

All too many Americans can remember a time–not so long ago, and not so far away as to give us any comfort–when signs like these were posted to keep them out

This image is a composite of signs that read, "NO Dogs, Negros, Mexicans," "Colored Served in Rear," "Rest Rooms, White Only," and "Drinking Fountain," with arrows pointing opposite directions toward "White" and "Colored."
This photo shows a sign for the Imperial Laundry Co., emblazoned "We Wash for White People Only."
This is a hand-lettered sign, probably for a restaurant, that proclaims: "We serve whites only. No Spanish or Mexicans."

When public spaces like these were all too common.

This is a photo of two water fountains, along the wall of a public space. The one labeled "White" has a clean top and a refrigeration unit, so it delivers cold water. The one marked "Colored" looks considerably older, and it very conspicuously does not have a refrigeration unit. No ice-cold water would come from that one on a hot summer day! A man with dark skin is drinking from that one in the photo.
This is a photo from Ft. Myers, Florida, taken in a segregated bus. The photographer was positioned near the front of the bus. The nearest 7 rows are occupied by exclusively white people, both men and women. There's a metal wall at the back of this section, with an open door in it. Through the door you can see at least one darker-skinned passenger in the back part of the bus.

When people accepted this as “normal.” Even as “right.” 

This a photo of a brick building in Leland, Mississippi. on its front are painted the words: "Rex Theatre for Colored People." This photo was taken in June, 1937, by Dorothea Lange.
Photo by Dorothea Lange, taken June, 1937 in Leland, Mississippi.

We live today in an era of rising white supremacy groups. They would tear down the all-too-fragile gains we’ve made for equity, civil rights, and justice for all

We must be vigilant. We must call out hate and bigotry wherever we see it. We must not let this kind of intolerance rise again.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Tes Blendspace for the composite of segregationist signs; to Georgetown Law’s article “The Jim Crow South,” for both the Imperial Laundry sign and the photo of “white” and “black” water fountains; and to DayOnePatch for the “No Spanish or Mexicans” sign. I also appreciate WGCU (Ft. Myers, FL PBS & NPR) for the photo of the segregated Ft. Myers bus,  as well as an interesting interview with one of the Americans mentioned above, whose memories of the Jim Crow era are all too fresh; and the Wikimedia Commons for the 1937 Dorothea Lange photo of the Rex Theatre for Colored People in Leland, MS. For more such photos, visit the Library of Congress page on photos of signs enforcing racial discrimination.

Is justice colorblind?

The Artdog Image of Interest

Normally, it’s not a good thing to be “colorblind” where race is concernedThat can make it too easy to pass over injustices and put-downs (both “microaggressions” and the more macro sort). 

But, as with so-called “blind auditions,” sometimes it’s only justice, if it IS colorblind, so everyone is treated equally. 

In a 2012 Duke University study, researchers examined more than 700 felony trials in Florida. Their key findings were that in cases when the jury was all white, black defendants were convicted 81% of the time, compared with a 66% conviction rate for whites. When at least one jury member was black, the conviction rates were nearly identical, with 71% of black defendants and 73% of white defendants receiving guilty verdicts.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Duke University and Tamberly Ferguson
, via the A2L website, for today’s infographic.

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