Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Defunding The Police, Meaning

Second in a series.

As noted in my post immediately prior, Senator Kamala Harris has stated

Again, we need to reimagine how we are addressing public safety in America and to have cities where one-third of their entire budget is going into policing but yet there is a dire need in these same cities for mental health resources - for resources going into public schools, for resources going into job training and, and job creation

This was in response to an inquiry from Meghan McCain as to what "defunding police" means. The former Attorney General of the State of California believes the phrase means reducing a city's policing budget and replacing it with resources for mental health, public schools, job training, and job training.

That is inaccurate on two levels. defines "defund" as "1- to withdraw financial support from, especially as an instrument of legislative control; and 1- to deplete the financial resources of."

"Police" means- well, the guys and gals in uniforms, generally bearing firearms, paid for by the public sector.

It shouldn't be necessary to "go dictionary." But evidently it is, because Senator Harris believes it means to take some money from one actor and to give it to another. And as luck would have it, Black Lives Matter gives it a different, expanded definition:

As illustrated at 2:37 of the video below, Black Lives Matter Managing Director Kailee Scales argues that "defund the police" means (emphasis BLM's):

FIRST: Demand that lawmakers support reparations for all families of those killed
 and survivors of police violence.

SECOND: Demand that every State, city and municipality spend LESS on law enforcement and incarceration. Period.
FINALLY:    Demand investment into Black communities.  It is not enough to defund the police, we need to put in place systems to uplift and protect BLACK communities.


Reparations for all families of those killed and survivors of police violence presumably would include money for every suspect who is not only shot by a police officer but who is in any way assaulted or touched by an officer. That is why BLM uses the word "violence," whose meaning is almost infinitely elastic. The public would pay individuals who have been injured- or not- in the process of the police trying to subdue or arrest a suspect. The program would be both fiscally and politically untenable.

Some governments should spend less on law enforcement. One suspects, however, that BLM is not referring to the police officers handing out summons for speeding in affluent suburban communities or rural areas. More likely targeted is a city such as Baltimore, which last year suffered more murders than in any year except 1993, when it's population was nearly 125,000 lower. 

Decreasing the number of police on the streets probably wouldn't go over too well in the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C., either. Reducing police presence would be no gift to residents in the hardest-hit, often black, neighborhoods, and is no way to "protect black communities."

Black Lives Matter wants investment in black communities. That would be wise policy, given that those are the municipalities most often suffering from inadequate education, high unemployment, decrepit housing, poor health outcomes, and troubling incidence of crime.

But the investment shouldn't be limited to black communities. BLM wants the color of residents' skin to determine the level of investment. (Helpfully, they've even written "black" in all caps.) Some of us prefer different criterion, that the conditions the organization claims to be concerned about determine the push for funding.

Black Lives Matter is the driving force behind the important and very visible black lives movement and therefore should not escape scrutiny. Its focus is not on poor people or poor communities nor even, as its emphasis on emasculating police departments indicates, on reduction of crime in black neighborhoods. Whether its definition of "defund the police" is accurate- and it's not- its prescription would mean more violence and death on city streets. 

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