Ayende is a life long organizer, activist, and educator. He holds Degrees in Sociology (Social Inequality), and Afro-Ethnic studies.
*Important Note to the Reader: The term “Defund” has come under recent scrutiny by some who are unclear as to the exact meaning and intent of the term. For any reader who is uncomfortable with the verbiage “Defund” please note that the term “Defund” is indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, the term “Reallocate” for the purposes of this article. The term “Defund” was purposefully used to make the connection between this article and its purpose and intent, and the numerous movements nationwide that are currently using the term to denote our share intention.
“Over the past three decades, U.S. cities have allocated larger and larger shares of their budgets towards law enforcement. Today, the U.S. collectively spends $100 billion a year on policing and a further $80 billion on incarceration. Even though crime levels have dropped substantially over the last 30 years…[not because of but] in spite of higher police budgets.” –Forbes*
It’s time to reign in the terror:
We can no longer afford to be appeased by reactive measures that, to a nation desperate for change, may sound good on paper, yet in reality are always woefully insufficient and perpetually unsuccessful. These inadequate gestures by the state are always too little too late! We have seen this pattern play itself out time and time again without ever truly resulting in any real change. Black and Brown lives depend on our willingness to refuse to be placated by the police, the politicians, or the pulpit. This time we must stay the course!
Despite the fact that, “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Monday unveiled far-reaching legislation to overhaul policing in the U.S….The bill, dubbed the “Justice in Policing Act,” –NBC News* , we cannot afford to be pacified by anything short of revolutionary change to the way policing is conducted in this nation. Police reforms, such the ones represented by the newest wave of proposed legislation, do nothing in reality to truly protect Black and Brown lives. Thus, we cannot take our collective foot off the gas until we have driven the final nail in the coffin of police abuse, violence, and murder.
While we have seen well documented substantial drops in crime rates across the board, we have simultaneously witnessed substantial increases in the numbers and visibility of documented cases of acts of excessive force, brutal violence, and even murder perpetrated by police. This time we must be unwavering in our movement to end the reign of terror. This time we must address the true underlying issues: absolutely, completely, and unequivocally!
Over the past several decades we have seen an unprecedented, unchecked, and unrestrained exponential increase in funding levels, and more dangerously in the levels of ultimate authority and power we have handed over to law enforcement agencies across the board. We have reached a point in this nation where the average citizen would be hard pressed to distinguish between many civil law enforcement units and an American military unit from any number of forward deployments around the globe. This uninhibited and unrestrained power has led to a police culture that routinely result in vicious, violent, disastrous, inhumane, and immoral outcomes. As their funding and power has increased so has their levels of corruption, brutalization, violence, and MURDER.
With the nearly universal adoption of cell phones equipped with high resolution cameras, in conjunction with the power of social media, police perpetrated violence and murders, particularly carried out against Black and Brown peoples, often completely unarmed, have time and time again come to light for the world to see. These appalling outcomes of barbarity have pushed us to this current point of crisis. The ever increasing list of unarmed Black and Brown people whose lives have been extra judiciously taken, MURDERED, at the hand of police has pushed us well past a breaking point!
As we scramble for answers in the midst of this crisis of historic proportion and consequence, two things are crystal clear:
- 1. We don’t need to reform the police we need to entirely RE-FORM the philosophy and practice of policing itself. As, innumerable new measures, initiatives, best practices, policy’s, training, consent decrees, and the like have been put in place over the years, and tired in law enforcement units and agencies across this nation, the evidence is clear and distinct as to the fact that police reforms; although necessary, are not even close to being sufficient in protecting Black and Brown life in this nation. Furthermore, these measures fail to even reach a minimal level of sufficiency in serving our communities and the peoples in them. Thus, the only real alternative is to RE-FORM the entire system of policing itself.
- 2. The only viable option to RE-FORMING policing in this nation is to rein in ridiculous levels of police spending by drastically cutting their budgets across the board and reallocating those funds to 21st century community care based alternatives. Consequently, DEFUNDING POLICE MUST BE A UNIFIED AND UNEQUIVOCAL DEMAND!
The Myth and Americas White Lie:
The picture they paint goes something like this: Defunding police will immediately lead to lawlessness and chaos as hordes of black and brown gangs overrun your lily white suburban neighborhoods as they ravenously kick in the doors to your home, looting, raping, and murdering as the savages turn your American dream into a hellish anarchical socialist nightmare. Even worse yet, if we defund the police, there will be no heavily armed hero’s in blue to swoop in with guns blazing to save you from the dark forces of evil that are hell bent on nothing short of a perpetual genocidal white purge.
This tactic of using fear to manipulate the masses, particularly the play on deeply engrained racist stereotypes, that the invisible guiding hand of white supremacy persistently and purposefully has embedded into the very fabric of American culture, has a long and ugly history older than this nation itself.
The lie is so deeply entrenched that it leads to major media outlets putting out statements such as, “In normal times, no one would feel the need to point out the total absurdity of a movement called “Defund the Police.” The insanity of such a concept would be self-evident to anyone possessing the faculty of reason.” – Fox News*
Americas paralyzing fear of crime, is in reality is just coded language for Americas fear of Black and Brown peoples. This fear is so deeply rooted in the fabric of this nation that just the thought of not having a standing army of police, battle field armed, with military level capabilities, who could be called at a moment notice to charge in and exterminate the existential threat (Black and Brown peoples) is considered by those that oppose us, a level of insanity so great that it is beyond any rational thought or reasoning of anyone possessing fully functioning faculties. Furthermore, the fear runs so deep that in many cases it’s most pervasive at the level of the subconscious. Meaning that to be socialized in this nation, inevitably results in making the American majority hyper anxious, weary, and fearful of Black and Brown peoples, and this is not by happenstance but rather by conscious and purposeful design that has been thoroughly planned, crafted, and implemented for the permanent benefit and reign of white supremacy as the rule in this nation. The truth is that, the anxiety and fear of Black and Brown peoples in this nation is as American as apple pie, as second nature as breathing, and as natural a state of existence, for the dominate majority, as the American way of life itself.
If we are as a nation going to successfully challenge this dangerous myth and upend America’s vicious white lie, finally allowing all of America peoples the ability to breathe freely, DEFUNDING POLICE MUST BE A UNIFIED AND UNEQUIVOCAL DEMAND!
Lessons from the Past
August 11, 1965, Marquette Frye, a 21 year old Black man, was pulled over for suspicion of reckless driving. When members of the community began asserting their concerns and frustration at the young man’s treatment by police, the traffic stop quickly escalated. In the midst of the may lay that followed, it is alleged by members of the community that were present at the time, that not only were the police mistreating Frye, but that police aggression and abuse at the scene led to the injury of a pregnant bystander. Thus, the Watts Rebellion was on. Six days of uprising ensued, 14,000 National Guard troops were called in, and by the time the smoke began to settle, 34 people had been killed and over $40 million dollars in property had been damaged. In the years following, rebellions and uprisings surged and spread like wild fires across the nation as the anger of injustice boiled over and exploded from the pressure cooker that was racial injustice, sub human treatment, untenable social and living conditions, neglect, and specifically the long and pronounced history of mistreatment and abuse at the hands of police.
Like the hundreds of Riots, Uprising, and Rebellions that proceeded Watts…Hundreds more would follow. Especially in the years directly following. Below are some of those places where racial tension born out of mistreatment and abuse boiled over:
1966: Division Street riots, Omaha Riots, Chicago West-Side riots, Hough Riots, Waukegan Riots, Benton Harbor Riots, Summer Hill and Vine City Riots, Hunters Point Social Uprising, Sunset Strip curfew riots
1967- “Long Hot Summer of 1967”: Avondale riots, Buffalo riot, Newark riots, Plainfield Riots, Cairo Riot, Detriot Riots, Cambridge Riots, (a.k.a. the H. Rap Brown Riot), Saginaw Riots, Milwaukee Riots…just to list a few as, because in all 1967 saw almost 160 race riots erupted across the United States.
1968 – Detroit Riots, New York City Riots, Washington, D.C. Riots, Chicago Riots, Pittsburgh Riots, Baltimore Riots, Avondale Riots, Kansas City Riots, Wilmington Riots, Trenton Riots, Louisville Riots, Akron Riots, Glenville Shootout, Miami Riots, and of course, the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention protests, which led to Police Riots – List of Civil Unrest*
“I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”- MLK*
In the wake of so many rebellions and uprising, in 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson established the Kerner Commision, the commission was tasked with studying, identifying, evaluating, and generating a comprehensive report as to the root causes of the out of control social unrest the nation was facing. “Many Americans blamed the riots on outside agitators or young black men, who represented the largest and most visible group of rioters. But, in March 1968, the Kerner Commission turned those assumptions upside-down, declaring white racism—not black anger—turned the key that unlocked urban American turmoil.” “Bad policing practices, a flawed justice system, unscrupulous consumer credit practices, poor or inadequate housing, high unemployment, voter suppression, and other culturally embedded forms of racial discrimination all converged to propel violent upheaval on the streets of African-American neighborhoods in American cities, north and south, east and west. And as black unrest arose, inadequately trained police officers and National Guard troops entered affected neighborhoods, often worsening the violence… White society,” the presidentially appointed panel reported, “is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” The nation, the Kerner Commission warned, was so divided that the United States was poised to fracture into two radically unequal societies—one black, one white.”-Smithsonian Magazine* Consequently coming to the conclusion, “It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens-urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group.”- Commission on Civil Disorders*
The Kerner Commission’s findings from over 50 years ago continue to be just as true today. As its daring conclusions relating directly to, all manners of abuse, neglect, and continual/perpetual injustice as it relates to every aspect of life for unrepresented minority groups in this nation continues to serve as the undeniable root of civil unrest and the subsequent demands for change. As these undeniable truths, specifically those relating directly to policing have firmly established, all of the: reforms, laws, bills, training's, programs, shifts in practice, and changes that have followed over the years have still not brought us any closer to solving the true problem. As the issues we continue to face today, are identical to the issues faced all those years ago. The reality is clearer than ever, if we are as a nation truly ready to learn from the lessons from the past, simply reforming policing cannot be our ultimate answer; furthermore, DEFUNDING POLICE MUST BE A UNIFIED AND UNEQUIVOCAL DEMAND!
The Problem (The Truth Behind Americas White Lie):
“Today, the U.S. collectively spends $100 billion a year on policing and a further $80 billion on incarceration”, and those numbers are several years old. So the current numbers have to be approaching, if not already surpassing, a collective total of $200 billion dollars a year. Those funds represent hundreds of billions of dollars of unmet and unaddressed need. Needs that are universal, yet pointedly and disproportionately distressing for Black and Brown peoples and communities across this nation. Needs that every day they go unaddressed literally cost Black and Brown peoples their freedom and lives.
Instead of our communities having the capacity, social infrastructure and Funds, to adequately address and sever their mental health needs appropriately, police are called on to respond to those who are in mental health crisis. Rather than being able to adequately and effectively serve those in need, an under trained and ill equipped police officer or officers are send to fill the void. Like sending a wolf to tend to the flock. Our current system of policing is by its very nature and current function, a recipe for unending disaster. This mismatch of community need and services provided too often leads to the criminalization of people who, rather than handcuffs and pepper spray, truly just needed help. Furthermore, this misalignment of services and priorities, all too often results in the use of excessive force, brutal violence, and extra judicial killing (Murder) of those individuals who were in desperate need of a care and compassion. Those who were in need of a specialized professional rather than a gun toting crime fighter.
This is just one of many examples, but an example that has real world life and death consequences none the less, as incidence of police killing, particularly people of color, who are suffering from some form of mental health crisis is truly alarming.
“Nationwide, at least 25% of people who are shot and killed by police officers suffer from acute mental illness at the time of their death. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be fatally shot during an encounter with police…” International Bipolar Foundation
In instead of allocating more funds for police officers on the streets, officers who are ill equip to deal with mental health issues, we need to take those funds and reallocate them to fielding trained mental health professionals to respond to these individuals, particularly when they are in the midst of crisis in our community. This will not only save lives, but also relieve a tremendous burden on our disastrously broken criminal justice and incarceration systems that have long since been busting at the seams. In addition to serving those individuals most in need this will simultaneously lead to safer and over all healthier communities.
Looking Towards Real Solutions
Today’s police are charged with addressing everything from issues stemming from murder, to mental health/mental illness, chemical dependence/substance abuse, homelessness, urban blight, school to prison pipeline, poverty, gangs/ gang activity, narcotics/ drug dealing, unemployment/underemployment, domestic disputes, civil disputes, road/highway safety, K12/College/University safety and security, wellness checks, missing persons, juvenile delinquency, to noise complaints, and everything in between. Many of the areas that police are called on to handle are areas that they are not adequately or even minimally trained, equipped, nor should they ever in an advanced civilized society be expected to address.
Many, if not most, of these areas would be much better addressed and served by a specialized caring professional, one who would approach those they serve with a focus on helping and caring rather than one of crime and punishment. Specialized professional who would ultimately be evaluated by the level of care they provide rather than by the number of arrest and citations they have on their stat sheet.
THE TRUTH IS THAT DEFUNDING THE POLICE WOULD NOT LEAD TO APOCOLYPITC INCREASES IN THE LEVELS OF CRIME, BUT THAT IT WOULD LEAD TO SAFER AND BETTER SERVED COMMUNITIES AND PEOPLE!
If we are to truly address one of the fundamental issues of our time, what Du Bois called the problem of the color line, we must move to universally DEFUND POLICE NOW! This is not only urgent and necessary in order to realize greater outcomes for every citizen of this nation, and make our communities safer, it will also allow police to focus on what they are intended and trained for. Additionally, it will be a giant step towards combating the dangers of white supremacy, and save Black and Brown lives nationwide. If we truly want to move toward meaningful change and ameliorate the problem of the color line: systemic, institutional, individual racism, and the ubiquity of white supremacy, DEFUNDING POLICE MUST BE A UNIFIED AND UNEQUIVOCAL DEMAND!
Plan of Action
We need to immediately move to DEFUND POLICE and the incarceration systems in this nation across the board at the rate of at least 30%. That level of reduction will not only bring us back to a much more reasonable level of spending, as was seen before the irrational spending explosion of the past three decades, sold to the American people through the mongering of fear of Black and Brown crime, fear that lead to almost exponential increases in police funding year after year, and put us back in line with per capita spending levels closer to non-authoritarian nations of the world.
Furthermore, the US Department of Justice allocates at least $28 Billion dollars a year to federal law enforcement agencies. Therefore, a defunding of federal law enforcement agencies, at the same 30% rate, would free and additional $8,400,000,000 in tax payers’ money to implement targeted solutions to issues of safety and well-being in this nation.
“President Trump’s FY 2019 Budget proposal totals $28 billion for the Department of Justice to support federal law enforcement and criminal justice priorities of our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners.”- DOJ *
Combining local, state, and federal funds, a 30% reduction in budget, would effectively represent almost $70 Billion dollars a years. $70 Billion dollars a year to address the unmet needs of the people. $70 Billion dollars a year to change the paradigm by which the state serves, interacts, and protects its people. $70 Billion dollars a year to re-image and reform our society and truly move into the next phase of our collective social evolution. $70 Billion dollars a year that would go a long way to helping America realize its unfulfilled promises to its people specifically that of Black and Brown, who for so long have been stuck holding, as Martin Luther King Jr. famously coined it, “a check labeled insufficient funds.”
IMPORTANT NOTE: The same way that policing and law enforcement has been disproportionately focused and targeted on historically undeserved, underrepresented, and neglected communities and peoples of color, justified by the disproportionate need of those communities and individuals, so should the reallocation of funds, services, and social infrastructure that would be created by DEFUNDING THE POLICE. A disproportionate amount of those funds should be focused on serving, uplifting, and ameliorating the needs of those, Black and Brown and historically undeserved, underrepresented, and neglected communities and individuals with the most desperate and urgent needs.
Furthermore, those historically undeserved, underrepresented, and neglected individuals and communities and the peoples of color that comprise them, specifically Black and Brown peoples, should be the architects and chief decision making stakeholders involved in how the needs of their communities should best be served and addressed. This should be a locally based, micro to macro grassroots approach that gives the power back to the people to make the decisions on those areas most critical and important to their day to day lives! For this to be realized, DEFUNDING POLICE MUST BE A UNIFIED AND UNEQUIVOCAL DEMAND!
We Need Our Power Back
We have handed over our purse strings at the local, state, and federal levels allowing exponentially increases in funding for law enforcement in the name of safety and security at the expense of addressing the most basic and critical needs of the most neglected and mistreated peoples in the land. In essence we have leveraged our future, and the futures of our children, in the aim of arresting, beating, locking away, and waging wars against the symptoms rather than attacking the underlying disease. We have traded our liberties, health, freedom, and well-being for authoritarian police power.
We didn’t just willingly hand over all of our power. We didn’t consciously create the monstrously broken system of policing that currently exists with its death grip ever tightening around our collective necks. Powerful law enforcement unions, advocacy groups, lobbyist, the interweaving of law enforcement and politics/politicians, and especially the Fraternal Order of Police and their legions of doom have coalesced, conspired, and worked together to forge the system we see today. These powerful forces effectively played on and played up America’s white lie to create the current climate where ever increasing law enforcement budgets, layers of legal protections for wrongful action, and a plague of corruption/abuse/murder have resulted, without any real recourse.
“The Fraternal Order of Police is the world's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 330,000 members in more than 2,200 lodges.”-FOP*
This moment in history has granted us the extraordinary opportunity to pull back the reins on the oppressive forces that have come to dominate and occupy our communities and neighborhoods. We must come together to reclaim our democracy, re-imagine the way we exist together, and restructure our society in ways that effectively and immediately address systemic institutionalized racism, all too often manifested through individual action by those in positions of power and authority in a meaningful way that improves the way we exist together, while at the same time protect Black and Brown lives. If we are to be successful in our movement towards justice and equality, and in achieving America’s stated claim of moving towards a more perfect union, if America is ever going to fulfill it promises as outlined in her most precious and esteemed documents and declarations of human progress and freedom, if we are to survive the long and horrific history of racial hatred and white supremacy, and not fracture into an irreparable state of civil racial division and apartheid, …DEFUNDING POLICE MUST BE A UNIFIED AND UNEQUIVOCAL DEMAND!
List of Civil Unrest* *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_incidents_of_civil_unrest_in_the_United_States#:~:text=1967%20%E2%80%93%20Long%20Hot%20Summer%20of,%E2%80%9317%2C%20Newark%2C%20New%20Jersey
COMMISSION ON CIVIL DISORDERS*- http://www.eisenhowerfoundation.org/docs/kerner.pdf
Ayende Ignacio Alcala`
Community Organizer, Activity, Educator
Rock Hill, South Carolina
“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom” George Washington Carver
© 2020 Ayende Alcala