The phrase "Defund the Police" is controversial, mainly because it sounds to most people like it means "abolish the police." Really it means different things to different people, as many new phrases do until we settle on a collective agreement on meaning.
My suggestion is that we cede the term to the "abolish" camp, and so stop using it when what we mean is more accurately captured by "Re-imagine the Police."
What Does it Mean to Re-imagine Policing?
Let's first begin at the beginning. Where did American police forces originally come from? What is their origin?
Here's a good article for a deeper exploration of the topic:
In [Northern] cities, increasing urbanization rendered the night-watch system completely useless as communities got too big. The first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time was created in Boston in 1838....
In the South, however, the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system. Some of the primary policing institutions there were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts, Potter says; the first formal slave patrol had been created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. During the Civil War, the military became the primary form of law enforcement in the South, but during Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.
So in the Northern US, 1838 marks the creation of the first formal police force. But note the 1704 date in the South. Clearly that's a century earlier, so if we consider it one nation, that's the first function of the police in America. It was created to enforce slavery until slavery officially ended, and then to enforce oppression of newly freed slaves.
While much has changed in policing since that time, as has been the case with all American institutions over the centuries, I would argue that too much has remained the same.
If we agree that we don't really want an institution that sees non-white Americans as a threat to be controlled rather than citizens to be protected just like any white citizen, then we can agree that the idea of policing needs to be updated for our post-racism times.
(And by "post-racism" I don't mean that racism has ended, but that our idea that it's a good thing has ended.)
If we don't agree that the police should "protect and serve" all Americans regardless of ethnicity or race, then you might as well stop reading now, because that is a foundational value system for this post.
What Might It Be Instead?
That's where you come in. We together need to look at what "protecting and serving" really looks like.
We can take some cues from other nations.
For example, in the UK, the average beat cop doesn't carry a gun at all. Now in the US that would be complicated by the 2nd Amendment that has put guns into the hands off so many civilians. Our police probably wouldn't be safe patrolling unarmed unless and until the civilians are also unarmed. But we can certainly mandate that when a suspect is unarmed, the police are not allowed to draw their firearms. That is a pretty reasonable requirement if the only reason we're outfitting our police differently from British police is the prevalence of firearms in America.
We can also consider all the situations people are currently calling the police for and question whether sending someone with a gun who is primarily trained in the use of force is actually the best option.
And if it is the best option now, is that because that's actually ideal, or only because better options that could be created simply haven't been created yet?
Take a closer look at the graphic above, particularly the second half of the image.
We will have different ideas about how some of those burdens taken off the police are re-allocated in our society, based on our values and beliefs about the structuring of an ideal society.
Those who are anarchists would probably like to see more community provision of some of those functions, with voluntary funding from community members.
Those who are progressives would probably like to see targeted non-profits supported with tax dollars.
Those who are liberal would probably like to see local government directly providing services, but with different agencies who have training specific to the need involved in the situation.
I don't know what conservatives would want. My fear is that what they want is for things to remain as they are, since that would be the basic idea behind, "conserving." But I think we can and must do better. So I hope that conservatives could in fact come up with something that is more humane, compassionate and just than the current "slave catcher" system.
What Do You Think?
If you were going to re-imagine the police, what are some of your ideas for what they would be responsible and who would be responsible for the things taken off their plate?
Should someone with a gun be called for a wellness check when distant family/friends think a love one may be suicidal?
What about when a neighbor is concerned about domestic violence they are hearing through the walls or windows?
How about when someone makes a right turn without turning on their turn signals?
Falling asleep in one's car at a drive-thru?
A delirious person wandering up and down the street hollering?
In some of the above cases, perhaps someone trained in the use of force is the medicine for the moment, but certainly not in all. Which? And what happens in those other cases?
The reality right now is that police are being called in ALL of these situations, and in every single type, that choice to call the police has sometimes resulted in someone's death at the hands of police.
This article is not a prescription. It is an invitation to engage in the process of imagining with me.
What better thing might be?
(All text and images (except the AT logo) are by the author, unless otherwise credited. This is original content, created expressly for HIVE.)