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What it Means to Defund the Police

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Content Warning: R*ape, SA

Dear Asian Youth,

The misconceptions and lies surrounding the “radical” idea of defunding the American police system is incredibly frustrating. People who don’t take the time to understand the nuances behind the issue take phrases like “ACAB” at surface level and presume that defunding the police is an inane idea fueled by anarchist ideals. I have heard so many bold claims that instigate fear by acting as if the plan is simply to abolish the police system and leave the streets of America completely unprotected. In reality, “defunding the police” refers to the relocation of police funding towards organizations that will take on responsibilities with which the police have been unqualified to handle.

A poignant example is that the police are not equipped to help domestic abuse victims, despite the fact that according to the Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research by the US department of Justice, domestic violence related police account for 15% to over 50% of all police calls, meaning that they are the largest category of calls received by the police. And, the same report reveals that though “It appears that victims' confidence in police response leads to more reports of new violence,” a mere 27% of women and 13.5% of men who experienced physical assault by an intimate partner and less than 20% of women victims reported intimate partner rapes to the police. Responses from the Field is a survey of 900 advocates, attorneys, service providers, and non-profit workers who support and represent both domestic violence and sexual assault victims, and the results provide insight into why this is happening. 88% of these surveyors claimed that at times the police do not believe, and even go as far to blame the victims for violence. The situation is even more troubling when 90% of the surveyors said that “contact with the police sometimes or often results in involvement of child protective services, threatening survivors with loss of custody of their child.” Finally, black women, who face some of the highest rates of domestic violence are forced to deal with an onslaught of issues when they report (Intimate Partner Violence Fact Sheet). In the words of Gretta Gardner, deputy director of the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, “ There’s this pathology about black women that we are kind of combative, the angry black women trope… we aren’t seen as true victims” (The Quiet Crisis Killing Black Women). Again this idea is reflected in the Responses from the Field report, where over 80% of surveyors believed that the “police-community relations with marginalized communities influenced survivors’ willingness to call the police.”

Perhaps the police don’t care enough or aren’t trained enough to deal with domestic abuse victims, but either way they are unqualified to be the leaders in this particular fight for justice. Yet state and local governments spend an annual figure of $100 billion on law enforcement (Urban Institute). But imagine what organizations that specialize in helping domestic abuse victims could do with just a fraction of this funding. The police would no longer have to worry about helping domestic violence victims, and these victims would receive the treatment they deserve. In the long run this is expected to help more victims speak out about their experiences, even those within marginalized communities.

The same concept applies for an incredible variety of societal issues. A broader example is mental health services. According to the Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates report by the US Department of Justice, in 2005, 56% of State prisoners, 45% of Federal prisoners, and 64% of jail inmates were diagnosed with mental health issues. For perspective, only one in five American adults (20%) suffer from mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health). If we were to divert some of the police funding towards mental health funding we could prevent crimes from happening, which would, once again, lessen the burden placed on the police. After all, over policing and mass incarceration are short terms solutions. Going back to the example of mental health, punishing people for their disabilities and unfortunate positions does nothing but create a cycle of impoverishment. This concept also disproportionately affects Black people as society not only forces cycles of impoverishment but then creates disgusting and presumptive stereotypes about their situations, when so many are given no choice in a system that actively works against them. So, funding these organizations will improve the quality of life for marginalized communities and alleviate a greater issue of corporal punishment.

But the fight doesn’t stop here, as many are also looking to abolish the police system altogether, primarily due to its unarguably racist origins and ongoing struggles with police brutality targeted towards Black people. As US Today points out, the original purpose of the police system was to act as slave patrols that targeted runaway slaves and suppressed rebellions. When slavery was abolished in 1865, that didn’t prevent Black people from being over-policed, segregated, and constantly restricted by unjust laws, which were evidently enforced by police officers. In fact, many government officials and police officers were official members of the Ku Klux Klan. Following the Civil Rights movement was the War on Drugs, which specifically targeted Black Americans. And just this year, Black people constitute 28% of those killed by the police even though they only make up 13% of the population (Mapping Police Violence). For these reasons, it is unfair to argue that some people feel safer around the police, when this is a privilege that so many BIPOC, especially Black people don’t have. It is unjust to support a system that only benefits some as it completely ignores the experiences of this marginalized community. So it doesn’t matter how much money we throw at deescalation training and racial bias recognition when the men and women in blue represent a system that ignores and abuses the needs of Black Americans.

It’s easy for people to turn a blind eye towards the police’s misdeeds. They have been a part of our justice system for so long that it may seem as though defunding the police is one step too far, which is likely why the primary word used by the media to describe it is “radical.” But, understanding the complexities behind the idea itself shows that defunding the police targets root issues within the country as a whole and fights the systematic corporal punishment that forces minorities, particularly Black Americans into cycles of impoverishment. I hope that people become more willing to understand why so many people are fighting to defund the police and that the issue itself becomes less polarizing so that we can all march towards a safer America.

- Lora

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