Who’s Going to Tell Them? ‘Defund the Police’ Is Not Happening Even If Politicians Vote For It
Someone needs to tell the demonstrators that they're wasting their time. Or more likely, like the Minneapolis city council, they'll just pay lip service with empty promises and useless votes to "do something" while in reality, reform is a much more difficult and nuanced process.
By Taymaz Valley - https://www.flickr.com/photos/taymazvalley/49974424258, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91013003
They don’t teach Political Reality 101 at William & Mary, or at Villanova’s law school, Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey’s two alma maters. Frey was booed by rally-goers when he responded to a question about defunding the police. “It is a yes or no,” the woman with a microphone asked the mayor. “I do not support the full abolition of the police,” came Frey’s reply through a face mask.
“Go home, Jacob, go home!” and “Shame! Shame!” shouted the crowd. And just like that, the Jewish boy from Oakton, Virginia made his re-election that much harder (if possible at all).
As the sharks on the city council smelled blood, a veto-proof majority voted to in fact dismantle the Minneapolis police department.
This has been brewing for some time, as police reform has been on the minds of voters and pols in the Twin Cities since the shooting of Philando Castile in 2016. Writing in Time Magazine on June 5, Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher outlined what he has in mind.
We had already pushed for pilot programs to dispatch county mental health professionals to mental health calls, and fire department EMTs to opioid overdose calls, without police officers. We have similarly experimented with unarmed, community-oriented street teams on weekend nights downtown to focus on de-escalation. We could similarly turn traffic enforcement over to cameras and, potentially, our parking enforcement staff, rather than our police department.
Our city needs a public safety capacity that doesn’t fear our residents. That doesn’t need a gun at a community meeting. That considers itself part of our community. That doesn’t resort quickly to pepper spray when people are understandably angry. That doesn’t murder black people.
Keep in mind that George Floyd was not killed using a police weapon. He was strangled by a knee to his neck. Going back to the Rodney King riots in L.A., King was not shot–in fact Officer Stacey Koons testified that he believed King’s actions were going to get him shot by California Highway Patrol officers when he took control of the arrest, resulting in a brutal (but not lethal) beating.
Unarming the police isn’t really the solution. However, what will follow these political promises to “do something?”
“When we talk about defunding the police, what we’re saying is, invest in the resources that our communities need,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza told NBC News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “So much of policing right now is generated and directed towards quality-of-life issues,” she said. “What we do need is increased funding for housing, we need increased funding for education, we need increased funding for the quality of life of communities who are over-policed and over-surveilled.”
Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College, has become the darling of the media in explaining what it means to “starve the beast,” as he calls it. This guy wrote a book in 2017 that has been adopted as some bible for fixing the unfixable. He throws red meat to the progressive utopians in such pieces describing “what a world without cops would look like” (Mother Jones).
A friend of ours, they had their car stolen. The police actually recovered it and arrested the driver. So they were like, “See? We need police.” And I said, “Well, let’s dig a little deeper here. What do we know about the person who got arrested that stole your car?” “Uh, the police said that he’d been arrested a bunch of times and there was drug paraphernalia left in the car?” And I’m like, Hmm. So we tried policing a bunch of times with this guy. Did it prevent your car from getting stolen? No. Is this person stealing cars because they have a drug problem? Probably. Is sending them to jail over and over again fixing their drug problem? No. Okay, if we want to reduce vehicle thefts, the first time that we come in contact with this person, we’ve got to start trying to address what’s driving their problematic behavior.
I am reminded–indulge me here–of a scene in one of the best movies in history, by that I mean Galaxy Quest. Jason Nesmith, a.k.a. Captain Peter Quincy Taggert, played by Tim Allen, is on a strange planet fighting a literal rock monster. A monster made of rock. The exchange goes like this.
Fred's no good, Jason. You're going to have to kill it
KILL IT? Well I'm open to ideas!...
Go for the eyes. Like in episode 22 with-
It doesn't have eyes.
The throat, the mouth... Its vulnerable spots.
It's a ROCK. It doesn't HAVE vulnerable spots!
I know... You contruct a weapon. Look around, can you form some
sort of rudimentary lathe?...
A LATHE??? Get off the line, Guy.'
The monster's shadow falls over Jason..
ALEXANDER??? PLEASE? You're my advisor, advise me!
... . Well you have to figure out what it wants... What's its
It's a DAMN ROCK MONSTER!!! It doesn't HAVE motivation!
That's your problem. You were never serious about the craft...
Why does the car thief steal cars? Can we get Platonic here? Is it his nature? What’s his motivation? Sure, we can ask these questions, and we can try to reform the car thief. But a cop will tell you that most car thieves are stealing cars to do other crimes. Gang members steal them to do drive-by shootings. Drug addicts steal them to meet dealers, or to find other cars to steal the stuff out of (guns, money, and, of course, drugs being the most valuable items). They make better transportation than the city buses.
Vitale’s Pollyanna solution presumes that our society can socially engineer its way out of crime. It’s a serious subject among academics. It’s also a presumption that has the benefit of having been tried and found false. Look at Seattle. Look at San Francisco. Both are struggling with drugs, crime, and homelessness on a massive scale, despite years of burning cash on social experimentation and limiting police presence.
Watch the biting special report by Eric Johnson with KOMO titled “Seattle is Dying.”
Does addressing the motivation of criminals matter when the criminals are free to do whatever they want?
This one is about everyone else.It’s about citizens who don’t feel safe taking their families into downtown Seattle. It’s about parents who won’t take their children into the public parks they pay for. It’s about filth and degradation all around us. And theft and crime. It’s about people who don’t feel protected anymore, who don’t feel like their voices are being heard.
KOMO News Special: Seattle is Dying, KOMO, March 14, 2019
This is where Minneapolis is heading (but colder and less forgiving) if the police are truly disbanded. But nobody is going to actually do that.
Even Vitale told NPR last week that defunding the police isn’t going to be “someone just flips a switch and there are no police.”
She went on to say we should reduce our reliance on police. This is a very conservative view, actually. It means we should defend ourselves, no? Buy a gun (or three) and take care of our own safety. It doesn’t mean become a vigilante, but it does mean don’t call 911 for every problem, either.
But none of that matters. The police aren’t going anywhere, because they have a very powerful union. In another Post piece, the issue is fully discussed.
“There are so many terms and conditions in the collective bargaining agreements that insulate police from accountability and transparency,” said Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California. “Can we know who the bad police are? Are there public records? A lot of times, that is squelched in collective bargaining.”
There will be some reform of police departments. There will be more use of body cameras, and independent review boards examining footage, training, and sensitivity requirements. But anyone who thinks we will simply Thanos snap the police away is misled, obtuse, or hopelessly naïve.
I think many of the crowds gathered to chant “defund the police” and paint words on pavement in Washington, D.C. really believe it can be done. They have really bought in to the utopian dream. Those who live in Seattle and San Francisco know better.
Someone needs to tell the demonstrators that they’re wasting their time. Or more likely, like the Minneapolis city council, they’ll just pay lip service with empty promises and useless votes to “do something” while in reality, reform is a much more difficult and nuanced process.