From the murder of George Floyd to the killings of Adam Toledo; Daunte Wright; Mario Gonzalez, Ma’Khia Bryant and Andrew Brown, Jr., we are having many of the same conversations about policing over and over. Many of us (like me) are getting frustrated that the conversations don’t evolve. Many of us are getting stuck in the same rhetorical cul-de-sacs. And some of you out there won’t even Google the thing that frightens you most about this conversation: Wait for it … “Defund The Police.”
Luckily, I see my role on “United Shades of America” as “CNN’s Head Googler,” so this episode gives both a deep dive on the Defund movement as well as how Defund is related to and different from the Abolition movement. We also do a deep dive on America’s racist history of policing. And we have no other choice than to talk about some of the truly horrific cases of police violence in our country. Yes, it is a lot to cover. Thankfully, CNN let this be an extended episode.
Oscar Grant’s killing was 12 years ago. Once again, the headlines don’t change.
And that is why so many people are way past talking about an increase in superficial reforms, such as police wearing body cameras, implicit bias training, or hiring more Black officers. Instead, they are calling for the defunding of the police.
All that money going to police means that the police are tasked to do way too many things that they should never be doing. Like dealing with homelessness, substance abuse, mental health or patrolling the halls of schools.
Replace a historically racist institution
Police showed up. Detained him. He tried to explain to them that he wasn’t doing anything. They decided he was resisting arrest. Paramedics were called to the scene and injected him with ketamine. (Once more: Elijah had been MINDING HIS OWN BUSINESS.) They took him to the hospital, and three days later he was dead.
Stories like Elijah’s are all too common. And all too often they involve Black victims.
You can see this in the two texts that were used to establish the rules of policing, UC Berkeley African American Studies Professor Dr. Nikki Jones explains: Sir Robert Peel’s Principles of Law Enforcement of 1829 (you can tell that’s going to be bad for Black folks just by the name) and The Barbados Slave Code of 1661. (Ditto.)
“People still cite its emphasis on the relationship between policing and the public,” Jones told me about Peel’s Principles. “And what folks don’t understand is, at the time that Peel’s Principles were published, the public did not include Black people. And so the policing that Black people were subject to, enslaved Black people were subject to, that was dictated by the other founding document: The Barbados Slave Codes published in 1661.”
The Barbados Slave code says about what you would expect from a slave code; torture, maim, hunt, rape and execute were all perfectly fine for the White enslavers to do to the enslaved Africans. And most importantly, it wasn’t just kind of OK; the code specifies that the enslavers could commit all these humanitarian crimes with impunity. And you can draw a direct line from way back then to the modern era.
I see myself in Elijah McClain’s story. He described himself as “different.” I’m different too. Always have been. Elijah was a massage therapist who taught himself violin and then played it for stray cats. How could you think about hurting him? I want to hang out with him. There’s footage of him doing a silly dance into where he worked, quite literally dancing to the beat of his own drum. And I’m sure his mother fought to protect her son the same way that mine fought to protect me. I’m sure she knew full well — just like my mom did — that the way this country sees Black children, especially our young men and boys, puts a target on their backs from day one.
Why would you want to put more money into that?
Refund new possibilities
That is the basic theory of the Defund movement: Why don’t we take some of the money and some of the responsibilities away from the police, and give the money and the responsibilities to people who are qualified to deal with those issues? People who aren’t trained to kill. People who aren’t trained to reach for any weapon as their main tool. People whose job descriptions are focused on help and de-escalation. If the pandemic has shown us anything — and it has shown us a lot — we need to build long-term, sustainable public safety and an economy that works for everyone. Whether you Google it or not, at least now you know. That’s “Defund 101.”