On May 25, police officers from the Minneapolis Police Department senselessly murdered George Floyd, while knowingly be filmed in broad daylight. Two weeks later, nine of 13 members of the Minneapolis City Council — a veto-proof majority — have publicly committed to dismantling the entire Minneapolis Police Department and rebuilding it from the ground up.
“We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe,” Council President Lisa Bender said.
This commitment marks the first major victory of the growing Defund the Police movement that has rapidly spread across the country in recent days. The movement's intent is to fundamentally re-imagine policing in our country, where violence or the threat of violence are viewed as last resorts and where the homeless, mentally ill, addicted, and others are served by professionals trained to help understand and remedy their challenge, not those trained in violence and enforcing laws.
“Yes. We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a transformative new model of public safety,” Bender said.
When I first heard calls to “Defund the Police,” honestly, my first reaction was to think how crazy that sounds. Not only did it seem impossible to realize given the culture we have in our country, but also obviously unhelpful and impractical. Police keep us safe. We need people in our society trained to deal with active shooters in schools, murderers, rapists, and others who intend to do harm. We obviously can't dismantle the police.
But the more I've thought about it, the more it seems not only possible, but perhaps inevitable. “Defund the Police” does not mean we do away with any notion of people trained in promoting public safety, even occasionally through violence. Of course we need some people who can deal with active shooters, murderers, and rapists. These officers have and will continue to play a vital, necessary role in our society.
What it does mean is that we can and must fundamentally re-build from the ground up how we go about promoting public safety in our society. It means that wherever possible we aim to truly serve people and solve problems, rather than try to solve our society's problems with either violence or punishment. It means that armed officers trained in violence are just one of many, many tools in our toolbox and only used when absolutely necessary.
For those who think a society without nearly as many police officers is impossible, consider this: Many white people already live in a society without many cops. White people like me don't see many cops in our day-to-day lives.
On the other hand, communities of color for decades have learned to fear cops. They fundamentally do not trust cops to protect them and will often not call them, even when they are in grave danger. They largely do not think of themselves as being protected by police.
Most of us already live in a society without many police officers. Why is it so hard to imagine a world where much of the budget we now use to buy military-grade weapons to be used against citizens goes toward the teachers, social workers, mental health professionals, and others who are trained to truly serve us?