“What we know to be true is that last week we witnessed a black man die for allegedly forging a $20 bill while the police officer looked into a live broadcast for over 8 minutes. My personal belief is aligned with the reality that black people face – these measures to reform the police, micro and macro, are not enough. I personally believe that we need to reimagine our system of criminal justice and this reimagining begins with the people who are most marginalized and most deeply impacted by police brutality. With all due respect to all of the white people who may stand behind hybrid approaches or disagree, their ideas come second in this time.
This morning I tried to envision all of the white people who commit tax fraud, insider trading, or other financial crimes, or people like the folks at Volkswagen – would they ever find themselves dead on the concrete while their community members recorded? Would they find themselves having their last breath recorded for the world to see? Would white people who commit heinous financial or more violent crimes systemically experience the degradation that black people often experience when they do things as simple as jog, sit in their homes, or drive? Would any person on our staff besides me likely experience this threat in their lifetime? And the answer is “No”.
The question I encourage you to consider is this: if we can’t imagine a world where police departments are not resourced at the levels they currently are, then do we really want change and restorative justice? If we are not willing to, at the very least, divest from the police and invest in things like social emotional learning and healthcare to deal with the damage of the police and centuries of violence, do we want this change? Until the police are a body of people who can protect and serve and not disproportionately murder black people, should further investment persist?
The abuse of force and the violence against black people in this country have been prevalent since slavery in the United States. And our 13th amendment is still alive and well. This amendment still permits people to be enslaved if they are incarcerated. We cannot decouple the police from mass incarceration. Therefore we cannot decouple the police from the reality of modern-day disenfranchisement and despair. And we know that the rate of incarceration for black men and juvenile boys are disproportionate compared to any other race.”
Arielle Pierre, Development and Communications, iBme Collaborative Leadership Team
We received an email from a community member in response to iBme’s Call to Action to stand in solidarity with communities of color and protesters in the street activating against the murder of George Floyd. This community member was specifically concerned about our call to get involved with the Movement for Black Lives, to support and uplift national demands to #defundpolice and defend Black life.
Their email inspired me to do more research on the defunding police movement, which has made me so much more committed to this demand. Here I share with you my email exchange in case you might also have wondered about #defundthepolice, and because I want all of us to learn more about the history of police and policing in the US, to support Black leaders on the front lines, and to imagine life-sustaining alternatives to policing that are aligned with the values that iBme and our programs are centered within.
I want to reaffirm that at iBme we care about the humanity and individual well being of police officers, but most importantly I want to affirm that we support policy platforms laid out by black activists on the frontlines and the call to defund the police. These concerns do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe they are deeply intertwined and mutually supportive.
I really appreciate your email raising this concern. First because I want to hear from you and our community and listen to disparate voices that I believe together bring the greatest wisdom to a group. Second, because it gave me the inspiration to do deeper research and exploration of this topic.
Reading your concerns, it seems to me we are on the same page – that systemic changes are needed; this is not about demonizing or targeting individual police professionals. What I’m hearing from you is that the rhetoric and language around #defundthepolice may be interpreted to target individual police officers. With you, I feel compassion for the challenges police officers face – suicide rates, life expectancy, trauma, and economic hardship. My vision is that a systemic change would address these issues in tandem with protecting and raising up the safety and needs of black Americans. In fact, I think the policy platforms suggested by #defundthepolice advocates could do just that. The new systems called for by black leaders would require employment and training of individuals (potentially current police professionals) who could align their life and work with just, life-affirming, community-building values that I believe would reduce their trauma, stress, and suicide rates.
I attended the Movement for Black Lives action call on Sunday and what I heard there from black activists and leaders from around the country was a call for systems change, and very concrete, actionable, and brilliant policy proposals. Our team is centered on trusting and offering support to the black leaders on the frontlines. For example, Black Visions Collective in Minneapolis is calling for $45 million of police funding to be transferred into community programs – for community safety measures, economic development, education, restorative justice, and community leadership development. Minneapolis police department’s current budget totals $193 million. In 2017, the department received 36 percent of the city’s general fund expenditures. That would leave almost $150 million for the police department.
Here is the Movement for Black Lives Invest-Divest policy platform. When I read this, I read systemic change, nothing targeted at individual police officers. In fact, I imagine that many police officers would prefer to do this kind of community building work rather than being caught in the punitive, separating system they find themselves:
We demand investments in the education, health, and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance, and exploitative corporations. This includes:
- A reallocation of funds at the federal, state, and local level from policing and incarceration (JAG, COPS, VOCA) to long-term safety strategies such as education, local restorative justice services, and employment programs.
Over the past few days, NPR has run a number of stories from black police officers about their experiences in the police and their retirement from this work because of the systemic issues. Here’s one story that was quite powerful for me: Black Lives Matter Activist Wanted to Be a Cop, Why He Didn’t.
Your question also inspired me to do research on the history of police and policing in the US. I do believe there is a way that the karmic energy of the creation of an organization or system will impact its “life”, unless there is radical recognition, healing, and transformation, which in some cases may take more energy than letting a system “die” and creating a new one founded in deep intentions of love, justice, and safety – and a clear recognition of whose interests are being protected.
Here’s information on the history of policing in the US:
- The History of Police in America: this Time article highlights how in the north police forces were established to outsource the cost of protecting business owners’ capital and in the south primarily to catch runaway slaves.
- And more on “A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing”
And a few articles laying out the specific issues with the system of policing in the US today and reasoning behind #defundthepolice:
- The answer to police violence is not ‘reform’. It’s defunding. Here’s why from the Guardian
- Is it Time to Defund the Police? From Fast Company
- What a World Without Cops Would Look Like
With care in community,
Jessica Morey, Program Strategy and Teaching, iBme Collaborative Leadership Team
PS. The mayor of LA today announced a proposal to cut $100 – $150 million from LAPD’s budget to “invest in jobs, in education and healing” in communities of color. Similar campaigns are being taken up in other US cities.
PPS. If you want to learn even more, check out these great resources – some I heard about from The Get Down. BTW, I highly recommend dancing and moving and breathing your way through what this information may bring up and then taking that energy into action.
- Check out aworldwithoutpolice.org for a super comprehensive study guide on what you want to know about police + our society
- Watch Phillip Atiba Goff from the Center for Policing Equity in an actionable TED talk on the history of the US police force
- Watch “13th” by Ava DuVernay on the history of slavery, jim crow, and mass incarceration