Defund or Dismantle
When I saw some of the people marching in the protests in reaction to the murder of George Floyd holding up signs saying, “defund the police,” I thought it was just some angry people venting their frustration with the slow pace of police reform. Then I discovered that the effort to defund the police is a major tenet of the Black Lives Matter movement and that they are pushing a petition to defund police departments nationwide.
More than that, other progressive organizations like Change.org have also joined in this effort as have many local organizations. Of course, Hollywood stars have lined up to sign the petition and let everyone know about it. But then I saw that the ACLU (a supposedly non-partisan organization) is pushing this concept as well and that several progressive mayors and governors are already enacting defunding plans. In fact, the city council of Minneapolis (in a veto proof majority) voted to dismantle the police department entirely over the objection of the city’s very progressive mayor.
As I write this, the Wall Street Journal is reporting, “Momentum to overhaul law enforcement across the nation gained steam.” I am thinking, “whoa! Are these people crazy?” We have been in a thirty-year cycle of declining violence and criminality that has made everyone safer. No one has benefitted more from this trend than the black community which saw its homicide rate cut in half. These crimes were happening within the black community because in over 90% of deaths in black community, the offender was also black. There were probably many factors relating to this reduction in the homicide rate, but more effective policing was likely a principal reason.
Recently, the homicide rate has been creeping back up, from a low of 4.4 murders per 100,000 people in 2014 to 4.9 in 2015 and 5.4 in 2016. Again, there are many reasons why the homicide rate has increased recently. But one factor has been the so-called Ferguson effect, where increased crime and violence has been experienced by cities where the police have pulled back their law enforcement efforts in the black community. So, it would appear to me that efforts to defund or dismantle the police would be harmful to the black community.
It is true that the police in America kill a lot of people including many black people. In 2018, 209 black people died at the hands of the police. But 399 white people also died at the hands of the police in that year. The 209 black deaths by police represent 2.8% of the 7,407 homicides of black people. The 399 deaths of white people by the police represent 6.55% of white homicides. You can prove almost any point you want with statistics, and I am sure that racism was a factor in some of those deaths, but I believe it is hard to make a case for systemic racism in police departments with those numbers.
So, it is confusing to me that the progressive leaders of large metropolitan cities that have large minority populations are intent on implementing a policy that would likely harm their large minority communities. But then I thought, heck! This is America and we have a federal political system that gives a lot of power and discretion to state and local authorities. In the Covid-19 pandemic some states closed early, and some closed late. Some opened early and other are opening late. At some point of time in the future, we will have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t (unless somebody starts messing with the statistics).
The police are not our enemy. And they sacrifice a lot to protect and serve. Cops have the highest risk of suicide of any profession. Maybe we are asking too much of our cops. If someone has a mental health or family problem, it is the cops that they call first. But these mental health and family emergencies are not without danger. Recently in San Marcos Texas, two cops were wounded and one was killed responding to a family violence call. Cops may need more training or more support in order to be able to better respond to all sorts of emergencies but that is very different than defunding the police.
But the progressive governors, mayors and city council members that want to defund and/or dismantle their police departments and reduce their presence in black neighborhoods are giving us a great experiment to prove or disprove the effectiveness of policing. Of course, this policing experiment is the moral equivalent of the US Government’s Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male in 1932 because the outcome of the experiment has a cost in human lives. If conservatives attempted a similar experiment they would be called racists and Nazis for putting so many lives at risk.
Blinded by ideology and raw emotion, these progressive leaders seem intent on wagering the lives of black folk in the name of Black Lives Matter. How ironic! If they are correct and these experiments bring peace and security to black communities across this nation, then wonderful. We will have learned an important lesson. But if they are wrong, I pray that they will have the courage to live up to their moral responsibility.
There is another aspect of this move to defund or dismantle the police that must be considered. In my local community, the Home Owners Association (HOA) recently hired a company to patrol the neighborhood at night to counter a recent spike in petty crime (car break-ins and vandalism). But these patrols will be unarmed. If they spot something going on, they will have to call the local police to come and stop the criminal activity and arrest the perpetrators.
But if the local police have been defunded response times may begin to lag. And if the police are dismantled there may be no response at all. Austin City Council member Greg Casar stated on television recently that the response time is less important than building a peaceful community. That may work for electing city council members, but it doesn’t do much for the victim of a crime in progress that needs help now!
Rich communities will erect gates (walls if you will) and hire private security guards for their houses. Middle income communities will try and arm their security patrols. Gun sales will soar. Lower middle-income communities will create civilian watch groups, but with no police back up these will be armed vigilantes even if they are only armed with baseball bats. Alas, the poor communities will be at the mercy of the gangs just like the barrios of Comayaguela and Soyapango in Central America.
The sad thing about this is that it could mean the end of the rule of law in the United States and with it the end of trust among citizens of this country. Without trust, communities will withdraw into themselves for protection. Trade and commerce between communities will be limited. This broken edifice will be the ultimate expression of identity politics.
The efficacy of the rule of law lies in its acceptance by a large majority of the people and its judicious enforcement by government. But the rule of law is not just criminal, and the enforcement of the rule goes beyond throwing crooks and criminals in jail. In local communities and in big metropolises that means putting the interests of the citizens first. Police unions, teachers’ unions and other public employee unions put the interests of their members ahead of those of the citizens.
There is no outcry to defund our schools or our social services departments, but they are doing as poorly as the police (and possibly worse). In corporate America there is a big push to put the interests of other stakeholders up there with the interests of the shareholders. We need to do the same with our police departments, schools and other city and state agencies. Maybe then we can have a rule of law that all citizens can accept.