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The Politics of Defunding the Police

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 6/11/2020, midnight

Listen. Everybody. Defunding the police is a bridge too far.

This is not a criticism or knock on Black Lives Matter. I'm down with BLM. The group has achieved lasting fame and significance globally for their skill in organizing massive, sustained protests in the U.S, and sparking them world- wide. They now have an audience beyond those simply attracted to BLM's usual strategy of continuous disruption and agitation. At least some of the powers that be are now sitting down and are ready to listen. Well, what next?

In Los Angeles, Minneapolis and other cities, the main battle cry now is to defund the police. Somebody's rap video on social media will be up in a few days with that theme. Hopefully, it will be catchy.

Clearly, and deservedly, the police and other law enforcement, have gotten the bulk of the attention in the widespread public demonstrations of our day. After all, Central Park Amy threatened to call the police on a Black man who asked her to leash her dog, and the Minneapolis police publicly executed George Floyd. Law enforcement also pushed an elderly white man to the ground, busting his head open, police opened fire in the early morning and killed an innocent EMT worker, and President Trump ordered the police and military under federal authority in Washington, D.C. to clear the area quickly of peaceful protestors, resulting in several public beatings of Americans.

I am not here to absolve the police.

I am a Black man in the U.S. who knows to take every precaution after the red or blue lights summon you to stop. It is always a dangerous place to be and is always possibly the last place on earth you will see.

But focusing our new sights (after getting all four officers arrested in the George Floyd case) on goals like “defunding the police” in municipalities across the country, is not and will not be a worthwhile goal, if it means what it sounds like. This does not even take into account that that goal will not be achieved anyway. If it means mothballing public safety units, no city or territory wants to be overrun by crime and criminal behavior. That is, and will be, one unavoidable consequence of defunding police departments by a straightforward definition. The other point is there will surely be a proliferation of massive police “blue flu” episodes and straight-out police labor strikes against communities.

No, the call should be to “substantially reform the police.” Departments need to be ordered to implement more community policing and more de-escalation training, immediately. They also need to be barred from purchasing any more weapons of war-level equipment, particularly guns, tanks and armored personnel carriers with public funds. Certain body positions, like chokeholds, neck restraints, etc., must also be barred from training and use.

What exactly is meant by the “defund the police” sobriquet, anyway? Most advocates mean to institute divest and invest policies. That means the shifting of municipal and state budgets away from increased funding for more policemen, and more money allocated to public health, education, social services and housing, including help for the homeless. In most cases it does not mean eliminating police departments and decimating public safety structures.

The head of BLM, Los Angeles recently said, however, that BLM's position was to unfund regular policing, and reallocate all city money to community services.

Although there has been significant movement towards such a goal recently by a majority of the 15-member L.A. city council, the jury is still out on what, if anything, will actually be done. It's time for BLM and/or any other serious activists to engage in hardcore negotiations with all relevant parties. This part of the battle will be inside on the hard chairs and tables, and will not be decided by protest demonstrations.

There is a time to plan, a time to walk, a time to cheer, and a time to talk. I think we're there now.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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