“Defund the police”? A more dangerous and counterproductive agenda could not be proposed.
Who will you call when:
• You need a restraining order enforced against your abusive husband?
• Your shop has been held up?
• Someone rammed into your car?
• Your home has been broken into?
• Your child is missing?
• You’ve been assaulted?
• You witness a brutal attack or murder?
All of these crimes are committed against black people, white people, Asians, Latinos and everybody else. But tragically, some of these crimes, homicide in particular, are found in higher incidence in black communities. Who will the victims call?
Who will dedicate the time and effort to investigate these crimes so that justice may potentially be served?
Who will risk their lives to patrol neighborhoods with high crime rates and high levels of weapon presence?
Who will risk their lives to go to an active crime scene?
There are two types of groups who could fill such a vacuum: One is the military, the solution Sen. Tom Cotton was recently excoriated for proposing (and that cost The New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet his job).
Is that the solution we want? The military patrolling our streets?
The second group that could fill such a vacuum are paramilitaries, street gangs or armed, private citizens. Is that what we want?
A functioning police force is key to a functioning civil society. No more an instructive example exists than the periods preceding the rise of fascism in Europe — the very thing so many of today’s protesters claim is happening in the US. Weak police forces in Weimar Germany, for example, gave rise to both leftist and right-wing street gangs, with violent confrontations as a characteristic of Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, until the Nazis secured power — aided mightily by the alternative paramilitary force they had created.
Is that the alternative we want?
For a functioning democracy, there is perhaps one thing more dangerous than defunding the police, and that is when citizens do not trust the police. For civil institutions to work, they require the people’s support. To see what a society looks like when citizens do not trust government institutions, no better example exists than the Soviet Union. If a government waits too long to reform such institutions, the system collapses.
Right now, many Americans — some with very good reason — do not trust the police. That is what must be rectified, not getting rid of the police altogether. We need to move away from extremist all-or-nothing slogans like “Defund the police,” and seek solutions that create and rebuild trust. These can include rigorous training, education, stronger community liaison roles, stronger and swifter discipline of police if standards are violated.
A good place to start could be to seek input from the thousands of police officers who are also people of color. They don’t want to be defunded.
Another reform that is long overdue is to remove military weaponry from police forces. And another: remove from the police the responsibility for dealing with certain situations, admittedly hard to define, that are best dealt with by others. The mentally ill come to mind. The quandary here is twofold. First, mentally ill people can be violent. It is not easy matter for a dispatcher to discern the contours of a conflict involving a mentally ill person. Second, “defund the police” means fund somebody else. Governments notoriously pocket savings rather than reallocate them. Chief case in point: funding for the mentally ill, which, even after a mass shooting by a mentally ill person in Aurora, never happens in Colorado. Why might the killing of one man, George Floyd, cause governments to act differently?
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