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Tag: social safety net

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.

IMAGE CREDITS:

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.

Days of the Dead: Remembering the victims of human-made disasters

What can we do?

Sometimes we tend to look at the state of the world today, and say, “I’m just one person. What can I possibly do that makes any difference?” In yesterday’s All Saints Day post, I invited a pause to remember the amazing and valuable people who have perished in natural disasters this year–then to think about our own best response to those who are left behind. But not all disasters come in the form of storms, fires or earthquakes.

Do you think of all terrorism as local? In every case, it’s local to somebody–and wherever such attacks occur, they’re flat wrong. Here, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ (who happen to live in Egypt) were the target. But no community in any country of the world is invulnerable, and terrorism is always wrong, no matter who does it or why.

On this All Souls Day, it would do the world good to remember that too many disasters–this year and every year–are created by humans. And those human-made disasters routinely kill people and destroy lives in vast numbers.

In response to those, our wisest reaction is very much not to throw up our hands and ask, “What can anybody do?” Our clear call to action in those cases is to sit up, take notice, and ask “What can I do to help?” Because if we are not part of the solution to human-made disasters . . . well, you know how that one ends.

The headlines are full of the opiod epidemic sweeping the world right now–talk about a human-made disaster!–but addictions to alcoholgambling, and many other things abound, while understanding (and appropriate compassion for victims) lags seriously behind.

Terrorismaddictiongun violencehuman traffickinghomicidesdomestic violencesexual harassment and assaulttraffic accidentspollution and environmental degradationcoarsening civil discourse, and the determined efforts of many lawmakers to dismantle social safety nets and leave the poor, the elderly, the disabled and children vulnerable . . . no single human can tackle everything

But every single human can take on something

Just one of myriad examples of environmental degradation: cleanup after an oil spill in Nigeria.

What issues pull at you most strongly? Do you thirst for justice, despite living a class-stratified, discriminatory culture where too many nonviolent offenders are locked up for too long, while all too many better-funded violent offenders seem invulnerable?

Is your passion a yearning for greater kindness and civility in our communities? Compassion for the vulnerable at the hands of oppression? Are you worried over the degrading quality of our natural environment?

Each of those causes has an active community of people working to counteract it. I urge you to find one that suits your personality and concerns, then get involved.

You may not be able to solve the problem single-handedly, but you owe it to yourself and your world to do what you can. As long as we have life, that is the job of every moral being.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Casa Bonampak, for the Days of the Dead Papel Picado banner at the top (handy place to buy them); to NewsInfo on Inquirer.net for the photo of the Egyptian church aftermath; to CBC News for the photo of paramedics working on an overdose victim (and a story about how one paramedic copes with his job); to InvestorKing, for the oil spill photo and accompanying article about environmental degradation in Nigeria by oil companies; and to Pinterest for the quote image.

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