Frankly, with all the bad actors in blue uniforms on the public stage in America at the moment, this old white guy would think twice about calling the police. Which warrior would show up, and how prepared would that warrior really be to address the problem I am having with my neighbor?
With this in mind, “defunding” the police seems like a good idea. If I can’t call them with confidence in a good outcome, what good are they? Further, with less funding, the likelihood of an annoying speeding ticket would be lessened, as would the likelihood of getting arrested for falling asleep in the drive-through lane of a fast-food restaurant.
Police Brutality: It’s About More Than Defunding
On the other hand, if police funding were to be reduced, things could get worse. The police might decide that the only way to stay in business is to make policing even more of a focused business than it already is. The new business model could get even uglier than the present one.
There is plenty of blame to go around, particularly now that video emerges on an almost daily basis of our warriors in blue reacting to citizens of color as if they were some enemy who they have been tasked to vanquish. Over much of the last 60 years, as legal segregation slowly lost its legality, “policing” became the means to a segregated end. Constant political pressure to increase funding for enforcement of the law in order to save us from the savage criminals and terrorists in our midst became a key element of political orthodoxy in America.
The Wrong Word
Today, America’s police departments continue to get in line for another armored vehicle or another collection of grenade launchers without ever questioning why this expensive military weaponry is needed or whether the weaponry they already have is enough. By definition, warriors always need more weapons. Maybe “guardians” or community service officers would not.
Yet the weaponry issue just scratches the surface. “Defunding” is the wrong word. “Reimagining” is a far better one for now. This is not about reimagining a better world, although that would be nice. This is about the hard work of reimagining policing and the policing function.
As an example, what impact on policing would likely occur if police officers were required to live in the communities they are responsible for policing? For one thing, it would almost surely result in more policemen looking like the people they are being asked to protect. Further, that amped-up SWAT team might not look so good if it were targeting the residents of a neighbor’s house.
So, with just this one idea as an example, this one reimagining moment, we could open the discussion to reprogramming the tank money and the SWAT team money to upgrade housing and educational opportunities in some of the poorer neighborhoods where the police would be required to live. And with better housing and educational opportunities, everyone, including the cops, would likely be more invested in guarding the community than “policing” the community.
However, there is much to overcome. The police continue to believe they are needed in our communities to fulfill their version of our safety. And they cling to this belief because their version of our safety fits their version of who they are. To change this dynamic, there is much talk about a “guardian” model for the police function to help define the community role that the community wants for its police. This would provide space for allowing cops who think only of themselves as frontline warriors to leave and go back to the military or to policing outposts where there is no community. Most importantly, it would provide a foundation for identifying police leaders and new policing candidates who embrace the new community role.
When the dust settles in the latest round of national racial angst, there will still be police departments. The present challenge is to redefine their role as part of a broader effort to confront the layered and systemic racism in America that has existed since the nation’s founding. As statues fall now, those seeking to take them down can be seen as mindless desecrators of some delusional heritage, or they can be seen as a vanguard opening our minds to a racist past far more depraved than we ever wished as a nation to examine.
Seizing the Moment
But there is a real danger that this critical discussion will get sidetracked by a debate over Christopher Columbus’ role in the devastation of the Native American population or the obvious idiocy of naming a present-day US military base for someone who fought against the US military to destroy the nation to preserve slavery. The objective of finally confronting systemic racism in America will demand a lot more than this from each of us who cares.
We must seize this difficult moment to change what must be changed. Somehow, in a sea of disease, the breadth of the problem seems so much clearer. If we take a hard and uncomfortable look at how America was so ill-prepared at so many levels to confront a pandemic in its midst, the layered and systemic racism at the core of so much of what is wrong with America will not only bubble to the surface but flood the discussion.
Policing issues are, most of all, only one barometer of the depth of the problem. Income inequality, public health and health care disparities, educational disparities, and depressed housing and job opportunities are the deeper legacies of racism in America. In this context, the historical policing model should be viewed as the means used by the white and powerful to ensure that people of color learned their place and stayed in it.
With the US federal government led for over three years by an overt racist who has succeeded in using racism to divide the nation, many eyes have been opened. Now, it seems, that watching a black man have his life squeezed out of him by those sworn to maintain law and order has finally opened our minds and maybe even our hearts.
Yes, reimagine policing. But much more importantly, start doing what is necessary to reimagine America.
*[A version of this article was cross-posted on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.