Is Defunding The Solution To Police Brutality?
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd desperately pleaded for his life before being murdered by Police Officer, Derek Chauvin, who simultaneously dug his knee into Floyd’s neck and pinned his body to the ground. A police officer, one of society’s so-called ‘protectors’, willingly killed a person of colour in broad daylight. Despite Floyd’s death triggering the onset of the Black Lives Matter campaigns and revealing the systemic racism and police brutality embedded in society’s law enforcement structures, these injustices are not new. It is evident now more than ever that there is no better time to facilitate change. To do this, the appropriate avenue is to defund the police; by reallocating funding away from police departments to other government and non-governmental agencies.
Since the police are not trained to deal with many of the call outs they are expected to resolve, defunding could re-invest resources into organisations better suited to approach targeted situations. Often, the police encounter circumstances which involve issues that are more social than criminal, such as homelessness and mental illness, which they are generally ill-equipped to address. Defunding would allow individuals with expertise in these areas to intervene and solve problems using the knowledge acquired from their extensive training. Accordingly, social workers could attend mental health crisis’ and housing facilitators could assist the homeless. Not only would this increase the likelihood of successful outcomes in disparate situations, but would also permit the police to sufficiently handle violent crimes and avoid getting involved in unnecessary incidents. This reform is critical considering the growing over-reliance on the police.
Ironically, this over-reliance leads to the police doing more documenting of crime, than actually deterring it, as 9 out of 10 police call outs are for nonviolent encounters. Peter Manning argued that policing has evolved into a form of theatre; a presentation of ordered and mannered civility, that lures the public into presuming that something is being done to manage criminality. Thus, having so much funding in police departments seems useless if nonviolent crimes can be managed by other agencies that are capable of producing fundamental change.
On top of this, when police assistance is requested, the oppressive and violent nature associated with police departments can, at times, turn nonviolent situations into violent ones. This is due to officers being taught to eliminate potential threats and use force when necessary. However, this skillset is divergent to how social interactions occur, and when entities like social workers get involved, they usually know how to exhibit compassion and empathy; which prevents situations from escalating.
Despite these arguments, some scholars have claimed that defunding the police would result in a chain of chaos involving fewer officers being employed, less protection of communities, and a pronounced spike in crime. However, this assertion is flawed, as the police are not as good at solving crime as traditionally believed; as approximately 66% of rapes and 38% of murders go uncleared every year. Moreover, the medias portrayal of the police as having a tough exterior and criminals being inherently dangerous perpetuates tension between the two; which has produced little evidence, if any, to show that more police surveillance results in fewer crimes and greater public safety. Sometimes, it becomes more about violence – particularly when the offender is a person of colour – than ensuring harmony and preventing crime.
Therefore, to mitigate police brutality, a better assignment of taxpayer money would be towards reallocating funding into sectors which strive to eradicate crime before it transpires; including homelessness, addiction and mental health. If, for example, money was funded into supporting children who grow up estranged from their families, then less would resort to joining gangs and committing crimes.
Going forward, defunding the police is not only desirable, but critical for reducing crime and promoting social cohesion. Ensuring that the police follow the law is not enough. Nonetheless, a balance must be struck to ensure that enough officers are available when they are needed to control violent crimes. Principally, however, society must not take ‘defunding’ in its literal meaning, and should be aware that defunding is not about complete abolition, but rather, diverting resources and implementing practices that reduce police violence. So, if the scale tilts towards defunding being the solution to police brutality, why would we not do it? And if it does produce significant benefits, total abolition may be a very real possibility in the future. But until that conversation can commence, we need to collectively take steps to ensure that no one else becomes a victim of police brutality.