Reform, not Defund
“‘Our people’ have functioned in this country for nearly a century as political weapons, the trump card up the enemies’ sleeve; anything promised Negroes at election time is also a threat leveled at the opposition; in the struggle for mastery the Negro is the pawn.” — James Baldwin
We are already seeing the effects of the criminal justice reform system’s politicization. Black Americans asked for less predatory policing and safer neighborhoods, and in response politicians transformed the issue into a larger culture war rather than address the legitimate concerns of impacted communities. I admit the calls for defunding and abolishing didn’t help, and I think that had to be expected. It played into the hands of bad faith political actors, activists, and parties. What comes next should be good faith efforts to address the issues that existed prior to the Defund movement, and those arising from it.
One big topic is that 2020 saw a rise in the murder rate. However, it is important to recognize that over the last three decades we have been on a downward trend for murder rates — murder is still at historic lows. 5 per 100,000 were the statistics, compared to the early ’90s, where it stood at 9 per 100,000. There are many contributing factors to the increased murder rate: the pandemic (which changed many socioeconomic factors for many individuals), the Ferguson effect (more on this later), defunding police, and the release of violent offenders. I start here because we can’t talk about this issue without acknowledging that, but we also can’t let the conversation end there.
The stress from the pandemic is hopefully temporary. We are seeing most of America opening back up; people are getting back to work and school. The idle time, loss of purpose, and other changing socioeconomic factors were all contributing factors. As the pandemic draws to an end, it feels safe to predict these declining contributing factors will leak into declining homicide rates.
Regarding reforming the system, we should bring in all stakeholders to do so. This involves addressing the defunding issue. Most cities haven’t done this, and of those who have, many budgets haven’t implemented the cuts yet. Moreover, it is unclear if the cuts impacted the departments. Have or will they cause cuts to staff and/or essential resources? It is too early to study, so it isn’t certain.
But you know what isn’t? The Ferguson Effect. This is a big deal that doesn’t get a lot of coverage. This phenomenon is described as a decrease in proactive policing because of police mistrust in communities. The Ferguson Effect results in making the communities harder to police, and/or risks an active pullback by departments because police are demoralized and feel threatened, and/or want to gain public support. There is a lot to unpack there — Policing is tough, and increased oversight is going to make some cops less willing to do the job. Sadly, a crimewave will boost support for cops. We are seeing one already. If we want to fix this problem working with the police is a must. That is why the reforms proposed at the federal and state level need support. Decreasing civilian — police interactions by ending the drug war, along with implementing traffic cams for traffic enforcement, is the best way to do that. We should also invest in more body cams for officers. This would free up police time and add accountability. We should pair that with better training of cops’ handling of emergency calls. Of course, everyone (cops included) will agree that cops need more training. I want to expand beyond the basics. Firearm training and hand-to-hand combat training are important because they are often woefully undertrained — but why not more de-escalation training, along with having a mental health professional on staff for certain calls where they can be a ride-along?
We need to be willing to have this full conversation before having the big one: putting more funding into communities. All the others build-up to this one. Poverty and lack of resources are the biggest contributors to crime, but resources won’t come into an area that isn’t safe. That’s why I put so much focus on strengthening policing, not ending it. Unfortunately, the amount of the budget going into policing makes it hard to put more into schools or roads. This is why limiting the tasks police do (removing routine traffic stops, drug enforcement, and other tasks better handled by others) should free up some resources to reinvest. I’m saying this all as a way to reform, not defund the police. We need to improve the communities, which starts with improving policing. Using the defund slogan without a guide is allowing people to weaponize the issue, and hurting the communities we should be aiding.
Floyd police reform bill