I recently wrote about the horrific murder of George Floyd where I questioned bothering to write an opinion piece, because better writers had made the same anti-racist points before me and had gone unheeded. This time though, America has not only answered my call, but the call of African Americans across the nation to stand up against the police brutality inflicted on us.
Therefore, I want to say thank you. Thank you to Caroline Loewald Farnham for your fiery and passionateresponse to my op-ed where you implored white people to “STAND UP NOW, FIGHT against and OBSTRUCT racism EVERY CHANCE YOU GET.” Thank you to the colorful, diverse masses of people who have taken to the streets to demand justice. I felt despair when I wrote my last piece. After seeing the global response to Floyd’s murder and feeling the support of millions of people, I’m hopeful that this is the moment for real and lasting change.
To secure that lasting change, we need to significantly defund the police. “De-funding” the police sounds like a radical idea, but only if you measure the idea against the oppressive state of policing we accept as normal. Defunding the police is about spending the massive amounts of money that flow into police departments on other government priorities such as education, housing, mental health and the other programs which have shriveled while police budgets have exploded.
What would defunding the police mean in practice? We would have to start solving some of our own problems. We would be responsible for the welfare check on a neighbor when their door is open, so that men with guns don’t show up. We would be responsible for coordinating the resources to protect our street corners from poor drivers, instead of a system where a routine traffic stop can lead to your death. It would mean taking more responsibility for the safety of our own communities and adding more things to do to our already-busy lives, but that’s the tradeoff. There is nothing free in this world.
At the same time, we will need to demand that our local, state and federal officials spend less money on policing. That means fewer police officers, fewer jails and prisons, and fewer purchases of military-grade equipment to be deployed against civilians, among many other cuts. What happens to that money is a topic for another time. But the resources which are used to overpolice and harass American citizens need to be dramatically reduced.
Accomplishing this feat will require, to borrow the phrase, maximum pressure over a sustained period of time. It will require that protests continue. It will require us to participate in local government, the state legislature and Congress. It will require us to do the hard work of civic engagement by engaging with other people’s thoughts and ideas and offering our own solutions.
The fight to end police brutality against black lives, and to ultimately defund the police, is a fight to end police brutality against all lives. The past week has provided mounting visual evidence of the brutal ways many police engage with civilians. These techniques have been practiced against the falsely characterized “violent” communities of color for generations as America buried its head in the sand. Now those techniques are being deployed against peaceful protesters of all races in Lafayette Square; against students in Atlanta; against the elderly in Buffalo. Defunding police is a necessary step to start correcting the abuses we witnessed.
Seeing so many people chant “Black Lives Matter” at protests over the last week has opened my heart to the idea that anything is possible with enough sustained work. Thank you for restoring that hope. Now let’s get to work and defund the police.
Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.
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