Separate And Unequal: Why We Need To Defund The Police And Invest In Black Communities

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Why We Need To Defund the Police And Invest In Black Communities
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In the wake of George Floyd's death and the subsequent arrests of Minneapolis police officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao, protestors across the U.S. have rallied around the movement to defund the police.

If you're not sure what defunding the police means, why it's necessary, or how it would impact public safety, please allow me to explain.

Why do people want to defund the police?

Advocates of defunding the police believe the current state of policing in this country violates the 14th amendment (Amendment XIV of the U.S. Constitution), which provides for “equal protection under the law.”

Back in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the psychological harm segregation had on black children. The Court deemed that separate accommodations were inherently unequal, and thus in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause.

The same holds true in regard to the way police departments currently operate in affluent white communities when contrasted to the way they operate in low-income communities composed predominantly of BIPOC.

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What does defunding the police mean?

This statement Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted to her Instagram stories gets to the heart of why I personally think the call to defund the police is vital for Black Communities.

One of AOC's followers asked, "What does an America with defunded police look like to you?"

Here is the full text of AOC's response:

“The good news is that it doesn't actually take a lot of imagination.

"It looks like a suburb. Affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing etc more than they fund police. These communities have lower crime rates not because they have more police, but bc they have more resources to support healthy society in a way that reduces crime.

"When a teenager or preteen does something harmful in a suburb (I say teen bc this is often where lifelong carceral cycles begin for Black and Brown communities), White communities bend over backwards to find alternatives to incarceration for their loved ones to 'protect their future,' like community service or rehab or restorative measures. Why don't we treat Black and Brown people the same way? Why doesn't the criminal system care about Black teens' futures the way they care for White teens' futures?

"Why doesn't the news use Black people's graduation or family photos in stories the way they do when they cover White people (eg Brock Turner) who commit harmful crimes? Affluent White suburbs also design their own lives so that they walk through the world without having much interruption or interaction with police at all aside from community events and speeding tickets (and many of these communities try to reduce those, too!).

"Just starting there would be a dramatically and radically different world than what we are experiencing now."

Separate

Black men in this country learn the drill early on — or find out the hard way.

I was born in 1968 and grew up in the North Central Bronx. We were middle class and my neighbors were not affluent, but our community was richly vibrant, predominantly made up of Afro-Caribbean, Latinx and some Italian and Jewish families.

Growing up in the Bronx in the late 70's and early 80's, I became adept at putting white folks in authority at ease. It was an important survival skill.

Understand, I wasn’t in trouble a lot. Thankfully, I had both parents involved in my sister's and my life. My folks were both hard working immigrants from Barbados. They wanted for us what all parents want for their children — a good education for their kids, prosperity and meaningful lives. Many of my childhood friends didn’t have the support I had.

Still, while with some Italian friends of mine one night, I was singled out by police officers and made to empty my pockets. My white friends didn’t have to. When one of my friends tried to intervene on my behalf, he was told, “Shut your mouth or put your hands on the car like your Jig buddy.”

That was my reality.

That factor and the excellent schools are the main reasons my wife and I decided to move to Maplewood, New Jersey after our second child was born. Fortunately, my family and I now live in a diverse, welcoming community. My interactions with the NYPD back then were vastly different from those I've had with the police in affluent Maplewood.

I’m still (and always will be) proud of my Caribbean and African roots. But nonetheless, even here, I always carry easily-accessible identification in case I'm pulled over by the police for an inquiry into my whereabouts and plans for the evening.

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Unequal

COVID-19 came along to create the perfect storm of unemployment, lack of sufficient health care and increasing incidents of police brutality — all of which have hit Black communities hardest.

The numbers are staggering, and yet, there remains to be two different sets of rules for Black and White Americans.

The federal government recently cut SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funding for millions of urban, mainly Black and Latinx families. Meanwhile, the federal government is now actively looking for ways to support businesses and individuals in places like mostly White, rural North Dakota, going so far as to waive the same work requirements that were used an excuse to cut SNAP.

I argue that a major reallocation of funds from police departments to other social service providers would create a community safety net better suited to these meet communities' needs.

Trained social workers and specialized response teams would be far better equipped to respond to situations like someone having a mental health crisis in public or passing bad checks than armed police officers currently are.

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Of course, defunding the police and increasing funds to social services only works if the intention is to improve the situation for everyone.

What is evident to me, having lived on both sides of the fence, is that our government is and has been intent upon fueling the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison-industrial complex.

America jails more people than any other country, and I refuse to believe that is entirely accidental. American policing isn’t “broken,” it’s performing exactly as it was intended to.

The criminal justice system is one of the main tools of maintaining White Supremacy in the United States.

It's been this way since the beginning. It's a rarely known historical fact that organized police forces in the U.S. developed from a place of White patrollers preoccupation with what African-American slaves were doing.

That motivation hasn’t changed much since the patroller model lead to Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation after Emancipation, and leading up to the War on Drugs, “Broken Windows” policing and “stop-and-frisk” policies that disproportionately targeted people of color.

Lest you think the blame for this fall only on Republicans, it's important to note that even Democrats have led such efforts, including former President Bill Clinton, whose disastrous 1994 COPS plan — an acronym for Community Oriented Policing Services — used federal money to pay for 100,000 new police officers.

Shifting money toward defense contractors and away from social programs only puts pressure on lawmakers to cut spending on essential services that would otherwise empower communities of color. This keeps the people living in those communities desperate, hopeless, and dependent upon police to address community needs — needs those officers are simply untrained and unwilling to resolve peacefully.

While the White Supremacy we're being forced to confront in American life right now wasn’t created by police officers alone, George Floyd's murder and the brutal crackdowns we've seen in response to protests nationwide have thrown a spotlight on the striking duality of racial bias within modern policing organizations.

As Americans sit amazed by the hyper-militarized police departments they're witnessing in action online, shifting money from police departments' budgets for those excessive paramilitary vehicles and weapons and using those same funds to create more affordable housing and mental health services is, at the very least, a good start with definable goals.

In doing so, the role police play in our daily lives can reasonably shrink. They will no longer be needed in response to issues with the homeless, mental health crises, school children, or any other type of situation where the best solution is definitely not asking someone to show up with a gun.

This is the sad legacy we all witnessed leading up to George Floyd’s last breath.

What are we prepared to do now?

Defund the police. Invest in Black communities.

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Alex Yarde is a writer, husband, and father living in New Jersey. His work is regularly featured as the All Things Geek columnist for The Good Men Project, as well as on Medium.