More care not more police

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More care not more police

Amy Hall writes about why defunding police departments could lead to more caring communities.


Protesting for change in Brooklyn, New York.SAANYA ALI/MAJORITY WORLD

White police officer Derek Chauvin killed 46-year-old black man George Floyd in Minneapolis, in the US. There were two weeks of protest and then the City Council voted to stop the Minneapolis police department. There was sadness and anger against racism and police brutality across the US and the world.

Jae Hyun Shim works with Reclaim the Block. For Jae Hyun Shim it was a moment of a change in culture. The Reclaim the Block group has been asking for many years for to take money from the police department to help community health and safety. ‘We have worked really hard to try and help some of the trauma we see.’ Jae Hyun Shim made a list of some of the people killed by police in the city: Jamar Clark in 2015; Philando Castile in 2016; Justine Damond in 2017; and Travis Jordan in 2018, shot during a mental-health check.

The Minneapolis Council decision and protests across the world to ‘defund the police’, started a lot of debate. Is it really possible to defund he police?

There is a history behind defunding police. The idea is for a change away from prisons and violent punishment to thinking about social, economic, and political problems, and finding other ways of doing things.

Governments have put money into the police, prisons, and surveillance, but problems like drug addiction, rape, violence and murder are still there. There are cuts in care, education, and preserving life with more privatization. The result is that social problems, including drug use and mental-health go to the police.

As there are cuts in care, there is more policing in social life such as schools and hospitals. For example, in the US, 1.7 million students are in schools with police but no counsellors and 3 million students are in schools with police but no nurses. There are police officers based in schools now in Britain too. There are more police in schools with many students who are working class and/or are people of colour. There was a study by Kids of Colour and the Northern Police Monitoring Project in Manchester. It says that two in five young people go to a school or went to a school with regular police and that this created fear, anxiety, and hostility.

More police in schools increases children’s contact with police and the possibility that ‘discipline’ problems will go to the criminal justice system. This leads to children going from school to prison. Over 60 per cent of prisoners in England and Wales were taken away from school for a short time, and over 40 per cent permanently.

Community safety

‘Everyone thinks that if you have more police and more prisons, everybody will be safer. That is not true,’ says Adam Elliott-Cooper, a researcher at the University of Greenwich. As the number of prisoners increases, people have not become safer.

In late 2014 and early 2015, in New York they tried reducing policing. For many weeks the NYPD had a protest after police were charged with killing a black man. They were involved in the killing of Eric Garner, a black man who died in a police chokehold. They reduced police work as much as possible and stopped some police work. Research found there were about 2,100 fewer major crime complaints.

‘If we want to think about what it is like without, just go to a rich suburb where police are not patrolling or harassing people,’ says Elliott-Cooper. ‘What does that rich suburb have? Everyone there has good healthcare and mental-health care, a well-paid job, and good education.’

There are still problems in rich areas, including domestic violence and mental-health. But stopping contact with the criminal justice system, and health and safety needs are the most important.

‘People in rich suburbs can take all the drugs they want and it’s fine,’ Elliott-Cooper says. Back in Minneapolis, Jae Hyun Shim says that the millions of dollars spent on policing do not stop murder and rape, and sometimes the police are the criminals. One study found over 400 charges of rape by police officers in the US from 2005-11.

A world with no police

Changing the police is not the answer. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, millions are spent on trying to retrain police and taking action on at racism. People who want to stop the police say that changing the police gives them more resources and a friendlier face.

The movement to defund police is not asking for police forces to stop at once but for a process, working towards a world where there are no police. This can start with reducing budgets, taking police off crimes involving drugs, homelessness, or mental health, removing police from schools and hospitals, and making sure nonviolent activities such as drug use and sex work are not crimes. Investment could instead be in housing, health services, women’s refuges and domestic violence support, sex and relationship education, treating drug addiction, support for mental health, childcare, public transport, and so on.

But only increasing the services we have will not be enough. We must take action on racism and other ways of looking at problems and inequalities in communities.

There are many examples from across the world of community-based justice and crisis support. One community-based action has had success in Minneapolis. It is called Group Violence Intervention. It works with gang members and people at risk in gun violence. It has had success in stopping tension between groups without the police, and there is a big decrease in gang shootings.

We will need to wait and see if they will defund the police department in Minneapolis. Some council members are now giving the idea less support and city residents would need to vote for it. But there is hope that defunding police departments is more than a dream.

‘Movements to abolish police and prisons are ideas for the future – of a world we want to live in,’ says Elliott-Cooper.

A world that’s safer for everyone.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)