Our nation has witnessed a long history of discrimination against black Americans embedded in our political, economic, and social structure, but these past few months in particular have brought to light America's long overdue awakening to systemic racism in our nation. Recently, we have all seen and heard about racial bias and the growing need for police reform to make policing more accountable. This has grown the movement to step beyond reform to shift law enforcement entirely through defunding and even the abolition of policing. However, the phrase “defunding the police” has stirred up enormous controversy. Many view it as a highly radical approach, but this is primarily due to the fact that many are unaware of what the phrase truly means and the steps to approach it. The club BCC4GunControl invited Dr. Shani Buggsfrom the University of California, Davis Violence Prevention Research Program to explain the issue at hand and steps to tackle it.
In her presentation, Dr. Buggs explains how there are six key reasons as to why we should defund the police. Those being historical concerns and their current impact, the lack of police capability to respond to needs, misaligned budget priorities, fear of police, mistrust in police, and limitations of reform.
Concerns about historical and current structures and ideologies within policing relates to“the fundamental concerns that policing ever was or is currently built to protect all citizens of the United States due to the structures and ideologies within the institution,” said Dr. Buggs. The defund and abolish movement is not about individual police officers, but rather about the entire institution of policing which is what many fail to understand, according to Dr. Buggs presentation. “Not only was the institution of policing started as a means to control and oppress black bodies in the form of slave catchers and property protectors for white Americans, but it has continued to operate as an apparatus of terror and racial oppression for many Americans,” said Dr. Buggs, further explaining how “law enforcement was complicit and indifferent to the lynching, beating, and terrorizing of Black Americans during the Jim Crow Era and the decades since.” Today, we continue to witness disproportionate rates of police incarcerable violence against Black and Brown individuals. Furthermore,there are extremely concerns about discrimination and racism that simply go unchecked within numerous police departments.
Additionally, there has also been increasing realization both within and outside that police are not equipped to handle all the social and economic ills to which they are expected to respond to. Dr. Buggs explains how less than 1% of all calls for violent crime coming into Montgomery County are for violence. “A substantial number of 911 calls to which police respond involve issues of homelessness, substance abuse, behavioral health crises, and situations that are not violent, and yet what tools do police generally have in their tool belts to respond to these events?” asked Dr. Buggs. “They have a badge of authority, they have handcuffs, they have tasers, batons, and guns,” said Dr.Buggs, emphasizing how police are ill-equipped to respond to community needs.
Since the summer of this year many have become “increasingly aware of the misalignment in government spending,” said Dr. Buggs,“and they are discovering that especially during times like this when the pandemic is forcing governments to make extreme cuts to their budgets, the budgets of police to a lesser extent remain largely intact while other services are being cut.” What many of those against the ‘Defund the Police’ movement are not aware of is the vast budget that police departments have. Defunding the police does not mean dismantling the system entirely, but rather reducing the budgets of police departments and redistributing those funds towards more essential services that are often underfunded, such as education, mental health services, housing, and more. Many encouragere form rather than defunding, but the concept of reform has not proven to be successful.Dr. Buggs gave the example of the Minneapolis Police Department, explaining how the police department had already instituted most of the policies commended by police reform experts around the country, “and yet George Floyd was killed by the police department in front of our eyes.”
Dr. Buggs introduced the “Divest/Invest” Movement which includes reducing the size and scope of police, investing in long term community safety structures, and funding community-driven non law enforcement strategies to respond to crises. This movement is essentially divesting in policing and law enforcement,and then relocating those funds as investments in families and communities.
Dr. Buggs states that the best way to get involved in the ‘Defund the Police Movement’ is to “look in your backyard and see who is doing work in your community that aligns with what your thoughts are.” Work alongside those individuals to immerse yourself within the movement to make structural change and work towards justice reform. Educate yourself and those around you who might not be as familiar with the issue at hand because within this movement transparency is key as Dr. Buggs states.