By Parker Kang
It is a struggle that has persisted for generations. Every few years, the entire nation is forced to take notice of its familiar form, whether it was in Los Angeles in 1992, Ferguson in 2014, or Minneapolis today. This struggle is the African American struggle for equality. Currently, the conflict is waged by two sides--protesters from African American communities and the law enforcement policing them. Inevitably, this tension has raised an important question: should we defund the police?
To answer this question, one must be familiar with the grievances of African American communities. Too often the conversation is shifted away from peaceful protests and toward the few violent rioters and looters, in an attempt to disregard the message these protesters wish to convey. The most recent controversy began in Minneapolis, Minnesota where a man named George Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer. Multiple times Floyd expressed that he was unable to breathe, yet the officer restraining him persisted.
Despite varying perspectives on the ensuing protests, most unanimously agreed that the video demonstrated an excessive and unnecessary use of force against someone who had been found committing a minor crime. This behavior by law enforcement is typical, if you ask residents of poor African American communities. This underlines the fundamental problem: in these neighborhoods, the police act as an occupying army that serves to oppress and subjugate. Furthermore, it is rare to see the perpetrators of this abuse be held accountable, even when their behavior leads to the death of an African American. An argument made in defense of law enforcement is that “it’s just a few bad apples” who commit these atrocities and that their fellow officers cannot be held responsible for their behavior. Yet, when one officer caused George Floyd’s death, the other three, as shown in the video, did nothing to intervene. When a 75-year-old protester was knocked to the ground and injured by a Buffalo police officer who was then fired, 57 others resigned in solidarity with the offending officer. It’s no wonder so many see law enforcement as beyond reform and why so many have taken the undeniably radical position of defunding the police.
But what does “defund the police” actually mean? Despite the phrase’s simple nature, it means many different things to different people. Of course there are some who really are in favor of totally defunding and in effect eliminating law enforcement. The problem with this solution is that without any law and order, poorer communities will only suffer more than they already do. The real question isn’t whether or not you have law enforcement, it’s how to keep that law enforcement accountable to those they are meant to protect and serve. This is the position taken by most who are protesting, even if some don’t realize it.
The best set of realistic policy priorities to achieve these ends have been outlined by the activist group Campaign Zero. Their website neatly lists these priorities: 1. End broken windows policing, disproportionate police responses to insignificant situations 2. The adoption of community review boards that scrutinize police behavior 3. A requirement that in non life-threatening situations, officers use restraint 4. Investigations into police misconduct should not be undertaken by those who know the officer on a personal level, as it creates a conflict of interest 5. Racial representation of police forces in a way that is proportional to the demographics of their communities 6. Body cameras that keep officers accountable 7. Train law enforcement to value life more highly 8. Put an end to for-profit policing, which gives officers an incentive to make unnecessary arrests 9. Demilitarization of police equipment that makes it easier to kill civilians 10. Force officers to adhere to the common law.
One final policy I would personally add to this list is the redirection of many overinflated police department budgets to professional help centers that work to care for, rather than criminalize, individuals with deviant tendencies. If these reforms are enacted, American society will be brought much closer to the end of the perpetual struggle African Americans face on a daily basis.