By: Jessica Roberts –
Starting as an obscure, back-alley movement that surfaced during the 1991 Rodney King protests, “Defund The Police” has become a global icon in the fight against state-sanctioned murders and police violence. The organization, The Movement for Black Lives, enveloped the slogan into its organizing vision in 2016. The invest-divest model has been a concept for generations, pushing for the demilitarization of police, reinvestment into schools, healthcare, and community interventionists, and, most importantly, the necessary shift in our relationship with policing. That is to say, “Defund The Police” is not new.
As history has shown with any radical shift in thinking, especially from the mouths of Black people, the comfortable majority will intensely and unambiguously oppose the idea. Let’s take The Civil Rights Movement, for example. This cultural phenomenon, that gaslighters love to bring up as a symbol of “societal progression” and, thus, proof of Black people’s “victim mentality”, had a 57% negative rating when it came to “demonstrations of civil disobedience”. Even in the modern age with Black Lives Matter, the outrage over the three worded mantra is one of vitriol, uninhibited racism, and ignorance. Waves of Anti-BLM sentiments washed over social media with the appearance of hashtags like #AllLivesMatter, #WhiteLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter, the Kenosha Murders, and the President’s own response to NFL player’s kneeling.
A critique of “Defund The Police” is that the term is pushy and divisive. From police chiefs to soccer moms to even South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, all of them sing in a different key but echo the same song—-defunding the police is a non-starter. Instead, as Clyburn suggests, America should “reimagine” police. Former President Obama, mirroring Jim Clyburn’s sentiments, even goes as far as to warn against the slogan and propose saying “reform” the police to not lose support. To many people, words matter and the negative connotation that “defund” brings destroys the possibility of meeting halfway. Marketing! Marketing! Marketing! An attitude that rings like church bells on Sunday. What many naysayers and opposers fail to recognize is that, yes, many believe words do matter and that is exactly how “Defund The Police” was born—intentionally.
To label it as anything but, to call it a “snappy little term the kids are using” shows the tone-deaf separation from what is actually occurring on the ground level. It is neither hyperbolic nor pessimistic to say that people will find a way to misunderstand your message if that is their intent. Similarly, like the aforementioned BLM movement, the Pro-Choice or #MeToo movements met and are still meeting their own type of societal resistance. Anytime an uncomfortable reality is broadcast to America, there will always be a struggle between what is and what could be. It is not enough to say “change the wording” when we have multiple occurrences in our society when “safe, easy to swallow, non-threatening” slogans were used and the message was still misconstrued.
As well, seeing many politicians publicly oppose the wording of “Defund The Police,” rather than the actual concept, is extremely…interesting. And not in a cultured or sophisticated way…but in the way the series finale of Game of Thrones was….interesting. If the idea of defunding and the concept of invest-divest is supported, then why shy away from calling a spade a spade? Seems like these public figures do not want to lose their footholds in enemy territory by supporting such a “divisive” term. To that I submit, when has doing anything the comfortable way ever worked? When has there not been, in history, a radical societal movement where the opposition felt the cause was too progressive or borderline anarchic? I’ll wait………..can’t think of anything? That is because resistance comes with the territory, especially when you dare to do something revolutionary. And fortunately, you do not need everyone to agree on defunding the police, you need the right people to agree on defunding the police. It not being widely accepted, does not mean it is not a plausible reality.
America is very quick to say there is no money for things like universal healthcare, free college, housing, food, when our proposed D.O.D. budget is 706 billion dollars, when the NYPD budget is 88.19 billion dollars. When one city’s police budget is higher than 11 different states’ GDP, there is a fundamental, societal discrepancy in policing around the country. If America is such a free and fair place, why do we have the highest prison population in the world? It can’t be simply because of population, since we know India and China house more people than us and fall far below us on the incarceration rates list. The only logical answer would be that America benefits from its prison population. If you don’t believe me, then look at the constitution.
The Reconstruction Amendments, or what the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments are called, are praised as the dawn of a new era, a glimmer of hope after a long and tireless battle of countrymen. However, the 13th amendment, like many others, has been cherry picked to satisfy one side’s argument rather than illuminate a universal truth. In its entirety, the 13th amendment abolishes slavery unless as punishment for a crime. Now ask yourself, if approximately half the country was forced to give up its only source of free labor and found this loophole that allows them to use the prison population as cheap labor, do you not think there would be a surge of new, easily broken laws and a system that is hungry to convict?
To this day, companies have come under fire for using prison labor as a way to cheaply make their products. Prisoners and their families fall victim to price gouging daily, having to pay for phone calls, emails, food, toiletries, and feminine products. America has always maintained a slave class: a group of people who are easily discarded, exploited, and villainized. Our institutions have supported this hierarchical structure and the police are no exception. This is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg on why defunding the police and reevaluating our relationship with it is paramount.
Shakespeare said it best, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. The nomenclature of “Defund The Police” is not a hill worth dying on if the objective is still achieved. The truth is, regardless of its name, the message is still the same.
Our incessant requirement of police to be everything to everyone, for them to play judge, jury, and executioner, for them to be above the law and then, also, the enforcer of the law, has to change. Too much time has already been lost…too many people have already been sacrificed by our unwillingness to enact reform. There is no more time to quietly ponder. We can either live as the solution or die the problem.