“What’s Next”: Defund the Police

“I have hope.”

It was another rainy day in Seattle. As I made my way downtown with one of the few people I knew in the area, Chika, a myriad of thoughts ran through my head. “What if things go left? Maybe I should have stayed in Boston for a few more days and done more there. What if I’m next?” As I composed myself and made my way to the protest with Chika, my nerves started to calm. When I saw a crowd of people start to form at Westlake Center, my body found new energy. I found strength from the power of the collective. The solidarity of the crowd uplifted me, and all negative thoughts left my brain. I looked at the crowd, initially with confusion, as I started to see the faces there — the crowd was made up of mostly White people. I had to remind myself that Seattle was only about 7% Black, an issue within itself, but at the same time, I have trust issues. I have nothing against White people as a whole, but a lot of the misery I have faced in my life has been at the hands of White supremacy culture and White people, especially those I considered friends at one point. I personally do not blame the individuals themselves, but I do place blame on the White supremacy culture that we are all brought up in. As I continued to walk through the crowd with these thoughts in my head, I saw a hand reach out towards me. A White woman offered me some water and I accepted, her eyes filled with sincerity and kindness. In that moment I thought to myself, I have hope.

We all made our way down the streets of downtown Seattle. The crowd filled with people from different races, ages, and backgrounds, all there to bring attention to not only police violence, but also the horrors of systemic racism in this country and its negative effects on Black people. I saw signs that read “Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe, White Silence is Racist, and No Justice, No Peace.” My sign read, “Nobody is Coming to Save Us, We Have to Save Ourselves.” Everything was peaceful, until we arrived at the Seattle Police Department Headquarters.

Source: Google Images

I started to feel the energy shift as the rain started to pick up. We were still peaceful, but we directed a lot of our anger and sadness towards the cops. We chanted, “ Hands up, don’t shoot” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” After a few minutes, I started to notice some strange things. The first thing I noticed was some of the officers switching out with officers that were heavily equipped with riot gear. I wondered, “Why are they so quick to do this without provocation.” Then I noticed officers start to put on their gas masks, again without provocation. About five minutes later is when I heard the noise from the flashbangs and tear gas. It was pure chaos with people running in every direction. I wanted to run closer to noise because I was pissed. “How can they just attack us without warning,” I thought to myself, but this was nothing new. This was exactly why we were protesting. As I started to make my way towards the smoke, Chika grabbed me. She said she didn’t feel safe, so we left, soaking from head to toe.

Source: Google Images

None of what I saw was really that surprising to me. Even hearing that SPD pepper sprayed a little girl wasn’t that surprising. I have had mostly poor interactions with cops all my life just because of the way I look. From being tackled for matching a “description”, to hearing about Quam’s death, police violence is something that I had unfortunately normalized for some time. I am done normalizing it and have begun to try to better understand the inherit problems within our police force and legal system. We need to defund the police, which basically means shifting money and resources from police departments to community-based services.

Source: Google Images

Qualifications & Training

First, the qualifications and the amount of training needed to be someone that is supposed to protect and serve our community is laughable. To be a police officer you only need to have a high school diploma and on average, officers only train for 19 weeks before joining the force. Another issue is that cops often respond to calls and cases that social workers are more equipped to handle, such as mental health crisis, substance use, and homelessness. I know personally through the loss of my friend, Quam, that officers do not know how to respond to those calls. If we require most social workers to have a master’s degree and hundreds of hours of clinical supervision, why do we think that one training would give police officers the skills to handle social and mental health calls?

School to Prison Pipeline

The school to prison pipeline refers to the introduction of youth to the criminal justice system through schools, namely through arrests by school-based officers. Approximately 67% of high school students have an officer in their school. This is problematic because our public school systems often see Black and Brown children as violent, disruptive, unpredictable future criminals. An increased police presence in schools leads to increased arrests, especially for Black and Brown youth who are 3 times more likely to be referred to an officer and 3.5 times more likely to be arrested at school. Instead of putting cops in schools, we should be investing in social and mental health services. It is completely unacceptable that 1.7 million students are in schools with cops but no counselors, 3 million students are in schools with cops but no nurses, 6 million students are in schools with cops but no school psychologists, and 10 million students are in schools with cops but no social workers.

Budget: Divest and Invest

The United States spends about 100 billion dollars on policing each year. Police budgets have been increasing over the years, while other much needed services have seen steady budget cuts, such as education and social services. For example, the New York City Police Departments current budget is approximately 6 billion dollars. Compare that to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual budget for dealing with infectious diseases, which is 2.55 billion. The City of New York spends more on the police than the Department of Health, Homeless Services, Housing Preservation & Development, and Youth & Community Development combined. These trends are similar in police departments across the nation. Chicago Police Department’s budget is roughly 40% of the total city budget and police misconduct lawsuits are paid with money from this budget; on June 1st the Mayor of Los Angeles approved a 7% increase in the LAPD’s budget and is giving bonuses to cops while instituting pay cuts for 16,000 city workers; and Oakland’s budget is about 44% of the city budget, which is more than Human Services, Transportation, and Youth Development combined. Crime is mainly a response to social conditions. We need to start addressing the root causes of crime instead of using police officers as a never-ending bandage system. Also, be wary of false allies. A few weeks before the murder of George Floyd, Mayor Bill de Blasio considered cutting hundreds of millions from the education budget before cutting funding from the NYPD.

Bottom Line

Police reform is not working and won’t be able to change the violent, aggressive, and racist nature of policing that we see in this country, which was proven to me when I saw a peaceful protest broken up before my eyes. Changes to police department protocols like implicit bias training, mindfulness, and police community encounters have minimal effects and they are not worth the money that it costs to implement them. The Minneapolis Police department was a “model” for police reform and look where we are now. I still have hope though. There is ample research that supports the idea that more policing does not mean less crime, in fact, research supports directing more money towards social and community-based services in order to reduce crime. One study found that adding community based organizations to a city reduces crime. The bottom line is we need to address our social and health issues that are exacerbated and often perpetuated by racism — like housing, mental health, employment, education, and access to care — to address crime. We need more counselors, social workers, and health professionals in schools, not cops. We need to stop criminalizing homelessness and substance use. Cops need to stop killing unarmed Black men and women, and they need to be held accountable when they do. What we don’t need are more cops and performative forms of solidarity. Renaming streets and creating murals are cool, but I rather have my freedom and dignity.

Mayowa has a passion for social justice and addressing health inequities. He earned his Masters in Public Health from the Boston University.