Incremental reform within America’s policing systems hasn’t been working. After the Ferguson shooting in 2014, where an 18-year old unarmed black man named Michael Brown was murdered at the hands of a white police officer, six cities — Pittsburgh, Stockton, Birmingham, Fort Worth, Gary, and Minneapolis — initiated policies meant to reduce the rates of police brutality and strengthen the bond between police departments and their citizens. Given that every single one of these cities has not seemed to let up on their treatment of minority citizens as sub-human, people are suggesting that reform in police departments, perhaps, isn’t going to cut it any longer.
While nationwide protests are becoming more and more contentious, the answer to minimizing police brutality is becoming much simpler than suggestions of reforms. Training against racial bias and using lethal force as a last-ditch option didn’t stop George Floyd, or hundreds of other unarmed black Americans, from being harassed, targeted, and murdered. The answer lies in the money that empowers them. Police departments need to be defunded.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, cities have begun planning which programs will fall victim to budget cuts, and by how much. In New York, Mayor de Blasio effectively slashed the Department of Education by $827M for the next year. The NYPD pales in comparison — they’ll be losing $23.8M, or 0.39% of their current budget. It’d be more accurate to consider this reduction a “nick” rather than a “cut”. Keep in mind that New York provided $6B to the NYPD this year. New York’s homeless services, healthcare department, and housing and development services received $5.4B combined. Taxpayer money has largely funded a police department with one of the most extensive histories of corruption among any in the U.S., while New York’s most vulnerable citizens continue to live paycheck-to-paycheck with little-to-no help from the government.
This isn’t just the case in New York. Houston, Chicago, Oakland, and, yes, Minneapolis, are among the major cities in America providing at least 35% of their city budget on its police department. Minneapolis PD received $193M this year. In contrast, Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, provided $23M for Flint’s water crisis (which remains ongoing). A study performed by Jonathan Mummolo, Professor of Public Affairs in Princeton, showed what we’re gradually becoming more and more aware of: the militarization of police not only fails to deter crime, but continues to multiply the tension between police departments and the citizens they are meant to “protect and serve”. While peaceful protestors are being met with riot shields are teargas, people are warming up to the idea that money given to an overabundant police department should be reallocated to social services Americans desperately need.
People with untreated mental illnesses are sixteen times more likely to be fatally shot by police. America’s poorest communities, and communities most populated by minorities, are those most likely to encounter deadly force by police officers. A black man in America has a 1-in-1000 chance of dying at the hands of cops. These murders have clear spillover effects in the communities affected, even if they’re not directly involved in the killings — there’s a clear link between police violence within a community and the community’s mental health. With many of these killings happening in America’s poorest communities, how many of their citizens can afford proper mental health treatment?
A report from the Urban Institute suggests a method called “invest-divest”. In their proposal, money is taken from police budgets and placed toward social programs, including mental health services, education, and youth programs, as well as infrastructure for transportation and housing. A divestment in police departments can not only strip officers of teargas cannons and other forms of weaponry meant to terrorize, but provide sufficient funds for necessary programs that are enormously overlooked. During a time where the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately harming minorities, and climate change is likely to follow the same path, social services allow for a proper adaptation to the risks that America’s most vulnerable citizens are most in danger of. Reforms that cities have committed to in order to fix racial bias have been next to useless; if George Floyd’s death hasn’t provided a clear-enough example, a report from Matt Nesvet describing firsthand how useless these policies have been certainly does. These reforms are bogged down to nothing — there is no complete structural change that provides a clearly-positive difference between bias in police departments after the reforms were implemented.
It’s due time for the federal and local governments across the nation to make a much, much more impactful change than making simple “reforms” within police departments. Charging Derek Chauvin won’t do Americans — particularly black and working-class Americans — proper justice. Bias training won’t do them proper justice. Proper justice means demilitarizing killer cops and stripping them of the powers that protect them. Proper justice means investing in the communities that need it most. Proper justice means officers like Derek Chauvin cannot possibly join the force. But the only way this can happen is if police departments are defunded for good.