From The Daily: Divest to invest – the reality of dismantling the police

Wednesday, June 17, 2020 - 3:57pm

Michigan protest photos by Dominick Sokotoff, Alec Cohen

Michigan protest photos by Dominick Sokotoff, Alec Cohen Buy this photo
Design by Hibah Chughtai

On Sunday, June 7, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council acknowledged that the current system of policing is not working and that they intend to “defund and dismantle” the city police department. Council President Lisa Bender stated, “(We need) to listen, especially to our Black leaders, to our communities of color, for whom policing is not working and to really let the solutions lie in our community.” While still in the process of planning exactly what these new, transformative and community-based initiatives may look like, the goal is to implement a model of public safety that actually keeps each community safe. Conversations of defunding and dismantling police departments have popped up all over the country, and many are concerned about what exactly this means. 

Past attempts at reform, even in Minneapolis, have been evidently ineffective and do not satisfy community demands. Instead of trying to change things from within the system — what reform sought to do — it is more essential to defund and dismantle the policing system that has disproportionately targeted and harassed Black communities for centuries. By divesting and funneling financial resources away from policing agencies, we can instead build and invest in municipal programs that work to fix the underlying challenges in communities — such as poverty, poor education, inadequate housing, food insecurity, drug rehabilitation, mental health problems, etc. 

There is reasonable confusion over the true difference between police reform and defunding the police, creating subsequent hesitance over the latter. When evaluating your own confusion, it’s essential to listen to the voices that have been most impacted by the continuous overabundance of policing and surveillance. Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza stated, “When we talk about defunding the police, what we’re saying is invest in the resources that our communities need. So much of policing right now is generated and directed towards quality-of-life issues, homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence. … But what we do need is increased funding for housing, we need increased funding for education, we need increased funding for quality of life of communities who are over-policed and over-surveilled.” 

When trying to disrupt a system that has been maintained through different mediums since slavery, we must have a mutual understanding of what we are hoping to disrupt and of what our ultimate end goal should look like. Many activists have advocated for reforming the police departments; others, for a defunding model that would strive to divest large funds from national police departments and equitably invest that money into community services. However, we have seen, with a prime example being the Minneapolis Police Department, that reforms are not successful. TIME reports that “the same reforms were recommended time and again over the past two decades in the MPD to increase accountability, curb use-of-force violations and build up community trust — with seemingly little implementation.” A recent movement called #8cantwait advocates for banning unnecessary measures of violence, for requiring police officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting and intervening and comprehensive reporting, among other things. Organizers claim this initiative could reduce police use of force by 72 percent. However, many activists are already criticizing this plan, calling it “copaganda” and saying it will improve policing’s war on the Black community, as it does not call for the removal of funds from police departments and does not address the entire issue of systemic racism and brutality within the institution. 

Decreasing police budgets is the first step in addressing the disproportionate amount of funding that police departments receive from the federal government. Calls for defunding do not mean the removal of efforts for public safety, but rather a demand to stop spending millions of dollars on military-style equipment for poorly trained police officers. 

History of policing agencies in America:

The protests against police brutality and the greater system that Americans are witnessing and participating in right now are nothing new. From many past demonstrations — including the 2014 Ferguson protests in Missouri that ushered in the Black Lives Matter movement to the 1992 Los Angeles riots to the 1965 Watts riots — we are reminded that the stringent acts of racial profiling, oppression and violence enacted by police officers on the Black community is a centuries-old problem. As discussed in a recent editorial, modern policing agencies in the U.S. originated from slave patrols and night watches, which were primarily constituted of white men using vigilante tactics to further control and oppress Black individuals. These groups worked for wealthy white slave owners to punish, capture and return enslaved people who escaped or were believed to have violated plantation rules. These first police forces were overwhelmingly focused on responding to, and punishing, what they considered disorderly, non-white behavior rather than actual crime. 

As American slavery gratingly matured into a depraved regime that denied Black people humanity while still criminalizing their actions, they were considered capable of engaging in crime but “incapable of performing civil acts.” Similarly, while the 13th Amendment is credited with ending the concept of slavery we are taught in grade school, it stopped short of ending slavery for those convicted of crimes. The laws that once governed slaves were replaced with Black Codes governing free Black individuals, soon making the new criminal justice system of America central to strategic racial control. 

These methods of oppression intensified whenever Black people asserted their autonomy or achieved any degree of success. For example, during Reconstruction, white policymakers and other white people in positions of power invented offenses used to target Black individuals. These included breaking strict curfews only for Black people, loitering, vagrancy, not carrying proof of employment from a former slave owner, etc. Those caught for such actions were quickly apprehended and American slavery persisted in the form of convict leasing, where Southern states could lease their prisoners to large plantations, mines and railways — all for profit. 

Later, in the second half of the 20th century, a new political fear would emerge during protests over harsh inequalities and civil rights. Black and brown people are still disproportionately targeted by these policies that were not as explicitly racialized as the Black Codes, although their implementation has been characteristically similar. Former President Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs,” “broken windows” policing, mandatory minimum sentences, three-strike laws, children tried as adults, etc., were all implemented. The rhetoric of “law and order” and subsequent focus on suppressing the Civil Rights Movement was adopted as a centerpiece for Nixon’s platform, which white authorities heavily utilized to criminalize Black individuals fighting for equal rights. As “cracking down on crime” became a codified tune, no distinction was drawn between civil rights activists, traditional petty crimes and rebellions. Within the past weeks, we’ve seen President Donald Trump invoke the same racist rhetoric as he declared himself the “president of law and order” and also quoted a racist 1960s Miami police chief by tweeting, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Unfortunately, many prominent politicians, including Joe Biden, former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee have not voiced their support for what Black communities across the country are calling for and are instead “opposed to cutting police funding and believed more spending was necessary to help improve law enforcement and community policing.” Many activists advocating against reforms at this time are calling for politicians to “read the room” and to listen to the people. However, many fear that instead of taking political risks to implement the much needed systematic changes in this country, politicians are more worried about alienating moderate white voters. 

For example, in response to an uproar of protests against systemic racism and police brutality in May 2015, former President Barack Obama and a selected team crafted “The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.” This report consisted of various reform approaches, many similar to those of the #8cantwait campaign circulating recently. These reforms have made no permanent or effective progress and local activist groups are continuing to reject broader pushes for more reform-based training. Johnetta Elzie, a civil rights activist and organizer, stated, “People in power — politicians and policymakers — are still talking about reform. We’re beyond that. We’re over that. If they wanted reform, they would have done it six years ago when we actually had the chance to. But that’s not what happened.” 

Instead, it is time to reimagine the ineffective and systemically racist notions of policing agencies and their superficial procedural reforms by defunding the police and investing in specific, community-focused safety and prevention programs. Productive steps forward could include the installation of multiple community departments and facilities that interactively work with community residents, to an equitable degree. This is suggested in the #8toabolition initiative, which was initially made by activist group Critical Resistance and was then reproduced by an ad team that created a website providing a variety of shareable graphics for social media. 

In Minneapolis specifically, a report was published in 2018 that outlined all the reforms the police department has embraced, including body cameras and various training sessions that cover mindfulness, implicit bias and crisis intervention. The Minneapolis Police Department also forfeited money to training programs and better equipment, but there was little to no decline in Black fatalities caused by law enforcement. With that in mind, it is pertinent that a budget seeks to resolve the facets of life that often incite petty crime such as drug abuse, mental and physical illness, food insecurity, poverty and the other impairments that disproportionately affect the disadvantaged areas of the larger city. We know that stronger strides must be taken and that reformative tactics are not working.

In regards to the prominent defense of “good cops” that have been victimized as a response to protests, the phrase “All cops are bastards,” or ACAB, suggests that the system of policing is all bad. An article written by an anonymous former police officer revealed that in training, recruits are shown numerous videos of cops being killed, racist and sexist acts are consistently enforced and that excessive, unreasonable efforts to incriminate civilians were encouraged. The structure of the policing department is structured to produce “bad cops” because the initial intentions of the police department are what the system maintains through modern-day mediums such as the criminalization of survival and police brutality. The department does not only invest in inspiring “bad cops,” but the unionization of police agencies further protects these cops from incarceration and even re-employs historically criminal officers. 

It is a community that ultimately seeks to weed out those same “good cops'' that a lot of Americans use to oppose the abolition movement. Officers who break from this culture of violence are condemned. Last year, the New York Police Department’s Sergeants Benevolent Association, the union for police Sergeants, tweeted a video of an officer walking away from a citizen who poured a bucket of water on him, rather than arresting them. They deemed the officers involved as unable to “handle the job” and that they “should find new work.” This is not exclusive to unions — last week, 57 Buffalo officers resigned their positions on the Emergency Response Team in protest of two officers’ suspensions for pushing an elderly man to the ground, cracking his skull open, while they continued to walk over him as he bled. While police officers do vary in morality and just surveillance, their greater departments endorse police brutality and racial biases and they protect their officers who do the same. 

Prioritized funding of programs and institutions dictates outcome: 

For all of those reasons, The Michigan Daily Editorial Board supports the call for the defunding and dismantling of policing agencies. When approaching a solution, it is important to differentiate between the nuances of defunding to dismantle and the motion to reform the police department. Minneapolis is a helpful case study for analysis of disproportionate budgets and why implementation of the reform approach hasn’t made progress.  

The Minneapolis’ Police Department’s budget for 2020 is $193,400,000. This large sum is broken down further, tapping into special divisions such as the Neighborhood Outreach Officers who get an annual payment of $428,000 and an additional on-going payment of $884,000. The traffic unit receives a one-time payment of $206,706 annually and an on-going payment of $355,323. There is even a special division dedicated to the Automated Pawn System — a unique technology designed to track the product sales at local pawn shops to solve petty theft — which receives an annual payment of $219,08, an annual outside contribution of $789,000, an on-going payment of $218,223 and an on-going outside fund of $1,090,276. One’s opinion on these numbers would depend on how they prioritize what must be protected and nurtured to inspire a safer environment. It is efforts such as the city’s trauma-informed domestic violence programming that nurtures the root of the problem preventing the crime, however, this program only receives a one-time payment of $75,000. Similarly, the Office to End Homelessness receives an on-going payment of $50,000, with the Group Violence Intervention allocated a one-time payment of $75,000 and an on-going payment of $75,000. More blatantly direct efforts such as Healthy Living in Low Income Housing and Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs both receive a one-time payment of $25,000.

These numbers are a clear indication of what is being prioritized in the community and by those who allegedly enforce proper conduct. There is more effort and investment in punishment than in actively tending to the systemically inherent disparities between community demographics. To invest in academic programming, recreational space, trauma-informed training and mentorship, support toward the homeless and more, would be an improvement in the way of life for individuals and society at large.

When taking a similar analytic approach to our local communities in the state of Michigan — including Detroit, Flint and Ann Arbor — we also derive disparities between community or preventative investment when compared to investing in punishment. For example, the Detroit Police Department is recommended to receive a total of $331,162,376 allotted from the budget in 2020. The police’s legal advisor will be allotted $1,300,056, a recommended $4,099,109 will be given to the Disciplinary Administration Unit, the Narcotic Enforcement Section $20,161,910 and Homicide $24,041,763. 

The training section is given $5,792,393 and yet the Detroit Detention Center almost triples that. However, prison care is only allotted $345,202 of the budget. In 2018, Detroit Community Based Violence Prevention only received $646,463 and the Detroit Domestic Violence Reduction Project only saw $149,195. Victims Assistance in the police rape counseling unit only received $748,979 and Teen Youth Development only saw $13,574. The city of Detroit budgeted $2,404 to Health Administration and $93,511 to World Medical Relief. Likewise, Public Facility Rehabilitation only received $891,456, Black Family Development Services was allotted $16,269 and Homeless Public Services did not even exist until last year. All of these numbers are in reference to the 2018 budget because the current budget does not offer data for these departments. The Civil Rights Division of the police support services bureau offers no current data for Detroit. Finally, the Mercy Education Project, which provides the community with tutoring services, college preparation, educational summer camps, GED preparation, career advisory, transportation and child-care services, was given $100,476 in 2018. In 2019, they defunded the project to $70,000. This is where your money has gone.

Similarly, Flint’s 2020-21 budget plan will allocate $25,613,572 to the general police department. Additionally, $4,054,748 will go toward police department retirement and $2,921,847 will go toward city lock-up facilities. Public safety will receive $4,098,384 in total. Parks and Recreation will be given $315,003 and community development is allotted a total of $1,216,168. Flint’s U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., stated, “We need to get financial resources so that we can fund that nutritional support, early childhood education, repairing and replacing those lead service lines.” Four years after former President Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint, the water crisis remains unresolved and community residents are still fighting for access to clean water alongside a police department that is funded with nearly $27 million.

Ann Arbor reflects a different set of priorities for the community. The police department’s budget is requested to be expansive for 2020 at $29,500,000. However, this pales in comparison to what we have seen from Detroit and Flint. Also, 26.9 percent of property taxes go to the city’s public schools and it is requested that only $25,839 go to drug enforcement. Unfortunately, only $21,268 is requested to go to Michigan justice training, but the flip side of that is $948,179 requested for alternative transportation and $439,382 requested for metro expansion. Community spaces and parkland recreation have been requested to receive $2,870,994 and community employers have vowed protection with a request for $48,994,430 to the employee’s retirement system.  

These numbers serve as an evident lack of balance in Detroit and Flint when compared to the community investment and productivity in Ann Arbor. In the two cities that have been notoriously abandoned, there has been a serious criminalization of subsequent behavior and an unjustifiable investment in punishable organizations and facilities. Yet, there is little to no investment in the residents themselves — their education, health, mental security or basic survival necessities. There are also drastic disparities in the budget allotted to preventing crime and violence as well as nurturing the victims of said crime, and the budget allotted to punishing or avenging crime. In Ann Arbor, where over a quarter of property taxes go to the city’s public schools, we see investment not only in the community but in what the community asks for. 

The excessive reliance on cops for community solutions and societal misconceptions: 

In America, we’ve continuously expected police officers to handle communal issues they just aren’t trained to handle. Criminalizing a large variety of problematic conduct has resulted in policing agencies being called to solve every minor inconvenience, even when the outcome of the situation may end up worse than before. We’ve managed to criminalize drug abuse, homelessness, food insecurity, mental health issues and poverty, among so many others, and this has led to increased policing and surveillance of communities that may deal with said issues. Simply put, our officers are not the guardians those in positions of privilege think they are — they are warriors. They have not been trained in many of the situations they are called to deal with every day, and the only tactic to a solution in many of these cases is resulting in violence for them. The previously mentioned anonymous article written by a former police officer reads, “And consider this: my job as a police officer required me to be a marriage counselor, a mental health crisis professional, a conflict negotiator, a social worker, a child advocate, a traffic safety expert, a sexual assault specialist, and, every once in a while, a public safety officer authorized to use force, all after only a 1000 hours of training at a police academy.”

It may be a surprise just how much police officers in America are trained before they are set free on the streets and armed to the teeth with militarized weapons supposedly to protect our nation’s citizens. As the aforementioned anonymous former officer noted, with just 1,000 hours of training, the average police officer is forced to pursue a wild variety of community challenges that they are simply not equipped to mediate. Regarding mental health crises amidst police interaction, the officer is only given 40 hours of training on mental illness and yet, 25 percent of police shootings in 2017 involved a mental health crisis. Similarly, a study revealed: “No significant change in attitudes were found following the completion of the Regional Law Enforcement Academy training (sic) program. Conclusively, the results of this study show that the training provided … does not significantly change the attitudes and perceptions of the recruits toward domestic violence.” 

From 2005 to 2013, 636 officers were arrested for forcible fondling, 405 were arrested for forcible rape and 219 were arrested for forcible sodomy. These are only the instances that were reported and consequently punished. On top of this, at least 40 percent of police families experience domestic violence. It is rightfully imagined that this is a small portion in comparison to the realistic rate of these crimes being committed on the job. The Next System Project, an initiative to dismantle the failing American systems and their societal harm, eloquently summarizes our interpretation of this data when Mariame Kaba declared that “the system you feel so attached to and that you seem invested in preserving is not delivering what you say you want, which is presumably safety and an end to violence.” Those who we rely on to maintain safety in our communities are seemingly those who disturb it the most. 

The ultimate concerns are various; not only are police officers spared of proper training to confront “criminal” actions in their communities, but their solutions to condemning these acts are visually ineffective. James Gilligan, a clinical professor of psychiatry and law at New York University revealed to the New York Times that “if any other institution in America were as unsuccessful in achieving their ostensible purpose as our prisons are, we would shut them down tomorrow.” He backs this claim, confirming that about two-thirds of prisoners commit harsher offenses following their release from the establishment. He later adds, “the only rational purpose for a prison is to restrain those who are violent from inflicting harm on themselves or others, while we help them to change their behavior from that pattern to one that is nonviolent and even constructive, so that they can return to the community.” He suggests that the police and prison system inherently sets bad examples for the individuals they seek to condemn — offering violence and punishment as the sole solution for unfavorable behavior. A better solution is proposed: education and rehabilitation efforts which, when practiced in the San Francisco jails, reduced the level of violence to zero. The rate of post-liberation violent reoffense by formerly incarcerated individuals also reduced by 83 percent following just four months of education and rehabilitation, and ultimately reduced tax-payer dollars by about $30,000 annually per person because of the decrease in incarcerated individuals. 

The problem with America’s approach to imprisonment does not only lie within the processes of punishment, but the sentencing time allotted to particular crimes. A comparison of prison sentences in America, Australia, England and Finland showed a disproportionately high trend for American sentences and the infrequently high Australian sentence. England and Finland offered continuously lower sentences for the same crimes, often less than half of the American sentence, sometimes even 16 percent of that sentence. While there is little to no evidence that these long sentences produce a deterrence in reoffense, there is evidence that longer sentences are ineffective measures for crime control, and that the only certain increasing data is that of prison populations. This same comparison provides a graph of the U.S. state and federal prison population spanning 1925 to 2014. In 2014, the prison population was 7.5 times greater than its 1974 population, yet crime rates have drastically decreased since the early 1990s — 92 percent of American voters said they believe sentencing reform should be prioritized. 

Despite a drastic decrease in crime rates in the last 25 to 30 years, society’s perception is that it has drastically increased, informing the casualty that has become calling the police on suspicious behavior. However, it is also concluded that most violent crimes in the U.S. go unsolved — so, where is this large prison population coming from? The answer is a combination of long sentencing dating back to the war on drugs, a portion of violent crime, wrongfully convicted prisoners and petty crime convicts. So, how can we decrease this large prison population while also decreasing criminalized acts to improve the neighborhood in which these combined efforts diminish? The first step is simple: before you call the cops, check your bias. Why do you feel the situation requires intervention, and who else may be able to intervene before this situation gets escalated by law enforcement? 

If possible and not urgent, consider going to the police station rather than making your larger community vulnerable to police presence. Consider all possibilities of a situation before suspecting danger — someone could be battling mental health issues and the police have a historical tendency to harm the mentally-ill community. If you are still unwavered by the aforementioned dangers of involving law enforcement consider these words from the confessions of the aforementioned anonymous officer: “American policing is a thick blue tumor strangling the life from our communities and if you don’t believe it when the poor and marginalized say it, if you don’t believe it when you see cops across the country shooting journalists with less-lethal bullets and caustic chemicals, maybe you’ll believe it when you hear it straight from the pig’s mouth.” And in regards to the notion that reform is the proper answer, consider the same cop’s claim that “that’s why no one is ‘changing things from the inside.’ They can’t, the structure won’t allow it.” 

Keep in mind that we are not individually discussing the cops who live in your comfortable neighborhood or the cop who high fives your 6-year-old at the suburban little league tournament. We are discussing the policing system at large, one that refuses to improve at an individual level because it is diseased at the root. 

How to move forward with a dismantled policing system:

When analyzing the inherent barriers to creating a safer, more community-based organization we must look at the police department as a whole. However, considering the reality of a dismantled department requires that we also consider what to do with these officers who are now void of employment. In New York City alone, the dismantling of the police department would leave 36,000 individuals unemployed and there are 17,985 police agencies in America. What protects these individuals are police unions, which make punishing criminal police behavior an insatiable task — in fact, amongst unionization of certain police departments, there was a drastic increase in crimes committed by officers and yet, most officers are eventually reinstated after they are performatively fired for committing a crime. 

The first step would be investigating previously disregarded offenses and, like other criminals, evaluating the proper way to rehabilitate and educate these offenders. For those who are adamant that we need to recognize “not all cops are bad,” this should be a reasonable solution to that defense: putting effort into rehabilitating those officers who have inflicted danger into their or other communities and offering community and career advisory to those who are seemingly good and rightfully serve society. As mentioned earlier, divesting funds from the police and creating a pipeline into more community-centric efforts such as mental health facilities, drug rehabilitation centers and equitable academic and career advisory would be beneficial to the lay community members and dismantled police population who can both become these service workers and benefit from their resources. This would not only help to stabilize the police officers who are seeking employment post-department dismissal, but it would also decrease the level of criminal activity and arrest that is considered prominent in disadvantaged communities. As the body of people who fund these departments with our own taxes, the question becomes what would we rather pay for: a deserving education for our Black communities or the encouraged killing of that same deserted community staged as a threat because of what we starve them of — opportunity and resources. 

These academic zones’ educational resources are slim and they often nurture negative behavior in their students, both by failing to adequately educate their student body and by labeling the student community as degenerate and dangerous. The school to prison pipeline is manifested through no-tolerance school policies and punishment, and the ever-present authority of law enforcement in generally abandoned school districts. In Chicago in the 90s, the no-tolerance policy was implemented and with that came a 300 percent increase in the number of suspended and expelled students. As trends follow, those who have been taught that the answer to unfavorable behavior is violent punishment or revenge perpetuate that form of punishment and are then criminalized for it. On top of that, being labeled since youth as a potential criminal trains your psyche to perform as such. If we instead invested in resources and programming for the youth, we would see a decrease in criminal activity, an increase in graduation rates — and subsequent employment — and a drastic decrease in prison populations. 

Like all greater efforts, it is essential to begin with your immediate community. Investigate your town or city police budget and compare it to investments for community development, recreational resources, academic and school efforts, crime prevention programs and youth development efforts. Demand change in your local, everyday community and then apply those efforts to the world at large. If you are in a region that benefits from the system, encourage your community to confront the disparities in your larger county, city or state investments. 

During this time, it may seem that calling for the dismantling of policing agencies — that America has known for so long — is an inherently polarized and radical plea. Defunding the police and demanding more comprehensive, community-based safety programs is not an imaginative idea. Looking to many wealthy, white suburban communities, the absence of an overbearing policing and surveillance presence is already achieved and that funding is instead invested in the achievement of their residents. The pressure to defund and dismantle the police is demanding that same equitable funding and humanity for Black communities across the nation. 

To those of you who are sacrificing yourself physically, intellectually or emotionally to this greater liberation movement, The Michigan Daily Editorial Board commends you and we are inspired by you. Protests have now taken place across six continents — this is only the beginning. We encourage the University of Michigan community to use their platforms to educate those without access to such resources. Focusing on the racial injustices and historical oppression of Black lives in America ensures the true history is not erased but rather transcended generationally so that one day, when we are all truly liberated, they will no longer be able to indoctrinate society with a false America. Education is freedom — stay safe, stay vocal, stay informed. Do not let up.