One day in 1619, the first African slaves landed on the shores of the country we now call America. They had been stolen from their homes and would endure horrific abuse at the hands of their captors. Stolen to help pick cotton to line the pockets of well-meaning, God-fearing white people. As the Atlantic Slave Trade became a booming business, slave owners began to worry about their property, the human beings that they had bought and traded like cattle. Slaves were beginning to run away, and slave owners decided that something must be done to safely bring back their slaves: they started militias. Groups of citizens who were charged with protecting their “property” and stopping any rebellion against the slave owners. These militias were paid by the slave owners, and America’s first police departments were created.
Fast forward 400 years, and we find ourselves discussing police brutality against black people. But the soul of our police departments was never meant to protect us. Police officers are doing exactly what they were meant to do. Which is brutalize black people and stop uprisings. Yes, black people in this country have been given rights but you cannot change your future without first understanding your past. When we see armed citizens counter-protesting we’re seeing our past play out in the future. Well-meaning, God-fearing white citizens are protecting what they deem to be their rights and property. The police protect them because that is what the police were created to do.
In reponse to police brutality, many citizens and councils are discussing defunding their police department. The President, to make sure that his supporters feel safe, assured them that defunding the police would never happen. As I’ve stated, I call New York City home. Like most major cities, we have crime. We need a police department. There has to be a way to protect citizens from harm. But the issue becomes when those who are being paid to protect then cause more harm? And after they cause harm, there are no consequences for their actions. Many people are confused about what it means to defund the police department, but had no issues understanding what it meant to defund Planned Parenthood. But I digress.
In the past, to combat police brutality, police departments have implemented body cams and implicit bias training to help their officers be held accountable and encourage diversity. We all know that body cams mean nothing. Officers turn them off, or somehow, they were malfunctioning, or a murder committed by the police is caught on tape and nothing happens. All we’ve done is spent millions of dollars on equipment and training that is useless.
In this country, we spend about $115 billion annually on our police departments, while most major cities have rising homeless populations, food insecurity, and gentrification pushing black and brown people out of their homes. Defunding the police means reallocating state and municipal funds to social services. Many times, when a crisis occurs, we call the police, and they are often not trained to de-escalate a situation with someone who is mentally ill. We’ve seen countless videos of police being called for bogus reasons, this is what needs to change. If we spend more money on policing and less on education, is it any wonder why our children are flowing through the school to prison pipeline?
Some counties are taking this a step further and completely disbanding their police departments. It sounds extreme, but it has been done recently in two major cities with high crime rates. In 2013, Camden NJ disbanded their police department saying that union contracts were too expensive. A new force was created along with stricter guidelines for when force was needed by the police. Homicide rates have dropped as well as excessive force complaints.
My grandfather was a police officer in Jamaica. I have respect for officers, but the respect is for those who respect the people they protect. I went to a protest last weekend, and on my way home I stood at a street corner waiting for the light to change. Most of the protestors were gone, and it was mostly people just running Saturday errands. A police officer a few feet away from me was brandishing his baton as though he was preparing for something. And I felt afraid. I also felt angry. He was trying to be intimidating and it worked. In my anger I thought, my taxes pay your salary and you would intimidate people who aren’t doing anything. This is what needs to change in our police departments. This belief that you don’t serve the people you protect. If this doesn’t change, any reform is futile.