Saturday, June 13, 2020

Defund the Police! Powerful Slogan or Horrible Mistake?

You may have heard of the slogan "Defund the police!" bubbling up from many of the people who are protesting the scourge of police brutality and misconduct.
Some people whose opinions I respect said that this was a horrible slogan to use because it would be immediately seized upon by conservative troglodytes and used to discredit any attempt at reigning in police departments. Some said anyone using this slogan was stupid.
The people in my circle who dislike the slogan are broadly on the left. None of them voted for Trump in the past or will do so in the future. And they, and I, are all old enough to remember where a strong left stance on a particular issue was misrepresented by people on the right to the detriment of those on the left. So I think they are honestly worried about the same thing happening again. I still wonder if the post-Reagan defensive crouch that many on my side of the political spectrum have been in may have blinded us to how politics and movements actually work. 
The Right doesn't actually run on a slogan of "We're going to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, repeal or ignore any laws or regulations protecting the environment and humans from dangerous pollution, waste or chemicals, destroy unions so that the reserve pool of underpaid and unemployed workers remains high, shift public funds to private and religious schools, eviscerate legal protections against racial discrimination, eliminate free speech protections for critics of the Israeli West Bank occupation, hunt certain animals to extinction, eliminate worker safety protections, and drive down American wages via relentless outsourcing and automation so that corporate profits remain high!".
Outside of the 1% only a little of that would be popular with most Americans. Instead conservatives run on "Low Taxes", "Freedom", "Make America Great Again", "Stop Overregulation", "Starve the Beast", and other such slogans. And this often works. And you never see conservatives fighting each other saying "Well actually, shouldn't we tell people that low taxes also means lower services and therefore many folks will need to work additional jobs?" That's just not in conservative DNA.
"Defund the Police!" does not literally mean that every police department or sheriff's department should be closed down and every law enforcement official fired. I think many of them probably should be though. It's shorthand for many necessary changes. 
  • If crime is down and city budgets are shrinking, shouldn't police budgets be taking hits as well?
  • Why are conservatives, who are generally anti-union, in favor of police unions? Should armed agents of the state, who have threatened mayors and prosecutors they dislike, be able to form unions?
  • Why do police departments need military equipment and training? Why does a police force need armored personnel carriers and automatic weapons? 
  • How can American citizens make police more hesitant, not more eager to use force? Can police spend more time and fewer tax dollars learning how to de-escalate and communicate better?
  • Are there jobs police do that would be better handled by social services?
  • How many white supremacists are embedded in police forces?
  • Why do we have qualified immunity for police officers? Is it still necessary?
  • Is there a way to reduce the almost incestuous relationship between police and prosecutors?
  • If brutality or wrongful death settlements were paid from police pensions or funds, would police suddenly have more incentive to reduce use of violence?
  • Should police ever be able to profit from seized property?
  • Why do so many police have such hatred for Black people, particularly Black men. It's rare that a month goes by without some police officer somewhere revealing such hatred to his/her friends, on facebook, instagram, police bulletin boards, etc. Are there better hiring standards and background checks that might weed such people out?
  • If most employed people had a number of serious complaints of wrongdoing on their job they would be terminated. How can we make it easier to terminate bad police officers for cause? 
And so on.

"Defund the Police!" is just a headline that includes all of the above points. 

Police need to be brought back under the control of the citizens they claim to protect and serve and the law they claim to enforce. With any negotiation, you ask for more than you're going to get. You extend a maximalist demand and then force your opponent to come closer to that. You set the debate limits. You fight on ground of your choosing.

Often the only things out of control individuals understand are money or violence.

We've rarely (never?) had protests this prolonged in this country, certainly not since the civil rights/anti-war movements. I think it's a mistake for people, particularly older people -and I include myself in that category now- to try to damp down that energy. 

My generation and those before have have our chance to fix police brutality. We've failed. Something new needs to be tried. Not every new idea is a good one, obviously, but if the maximal demand of "Defund the Police!" gets us the end of qualified immunity or the destruction of heavy handed police unions, I think that's a good start.

No matter what the left slogan of the day is, conservatives are going to lie about it and try to make everyone afraid. It's what they've done in the past because it often works. Well sometimes people just need to have the courage of their convictions and not let your political enemy define your plan. People are moved by simple wording and big ideas.
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