Defunding Police: What It Takes to End Police Violence

Millions have taken to the streets with a clear and distinct call to end police violence and to defund police. They have been met with a brutal wave of repression from police departments across the country, with the unequivocal blessing of the Trump administration.

We need to be explicit. Much has been made about re-introducing existing use-of-force regulations as a potential way forward on police violence. Regulations are important as they can function as a guide for police departments of any size or scale. But, we cannot be more clear: they are insufficient as a solution to the problem of police violence, either incrementally or as a tool of transformation. This is not an area of debate, it is both materially and morally true.

People want urgent, measurable, and effective change immediately. We are outraged by police murders that escape even the slightest hint of accountability. Yet, we have also seen the totality of police violence in its horrifyingly broad scale: beatings that maim; tear gas canisters fired directly at the bodies of civilians; the denial of medical care to those in custody; mental torture; and a list of police misconduct that is so long and routine it barely registers as a priority for those charged with oversight.

When we talk about the impact of this deadly culture of police violence, we are not talking about hypothetical statistics. We are talking about a nation of people directly impacted by inaction. These are our families. Our neighbors. Our friends. Ourselves. Police have been given carte blanche to terrorize Black communities for far too long. And when they are called on it, they respond with even more violence that is clearly illegal and outside of every regulation on the books.

Should that not tell us something about what is required of us in this historic moment?

It’s quite simple: the way to reduce police violence is to reduce the scope, size, and role of police in our communities. Furthermore, why would we continue to throw money away at something we already know is not working? We need those resources in schools, toward our health, and for our futures. Yet, police departments continue to be rewarded for their bad behavior with outsized budgets which allow them to operate with impunity.

We can no longer afford for elected officials to apply a “too big to fail” strategy with Law Enforcement. It didn’t work with banks, it’s not going to work here. Too many people have died and too many communities have been torn apart for us to tinker at the edges of a deadly problem.

Many departments have use-of-force guidelines in place, including some or nearly all of the regulations being discussed in recent days. We know that these regulations have not prevented killings by police. Eric Garner was killed by a chokehold, the use of which the NYPD banned in 1993. Minneapolis had many of these regulations in place and George Floyd is still dead. San Francisco has all of the regulations currently being discussed but was still given an F on a related scorecard on police use of force. We have enough evidence to know that regulations alone do not stop police from killing us.

We must also be clear on the data being used to support these regulations as a solution: the data is fatally flawed. They simply do not back up the massive claim being made that police killing can be reduced by over 70%. As others have noted, using a 95% confidence interval on matters of life and death is woefully insufficient. 99% is the confidence interval goal in medical sciences and that is what’s required here. Solutions that allow for 30% of killings to proceed are in fact, statistical failures.

Furthermore, the data used to support the claim only focuses on police killings. As we mentioned above — police violence is not merely reducible to police killings. We have seen police illegally beat, maim, and gas protesters, without regard for the fact they are being recorded on live television in the past weeks. These data sets do not account for that behavior at all, both in response to protests or when it happens away from cameras every day. When it comes to Black lives, this is unacceptable.

If these regulations were being offered as simply having the potential to make an impact on police killings, there may not be much harm in that, as indicated in this piece. But proposing them as urgent demands that can reduce police violence by 70%, based on data about police killings, is absolutely unacceptable when people are in the streets subjecting themselves to police riots during a pandemic in the name of justice.

We need real action.

And here’s the danger we invite when we aren’t honest about what real action is. Elected officials would love a quick proposal that gives them an easy out. Police unions and racist conservative policies have a stranglehold on elected officials, dimming their will to end this crisis. And it is within their power to do so. They have a vested interest in quietly going back to a practice where the oversight of police happens behind closed doors and allows an out of control policing culture to continue unabated.

This is why it is patently dangerous to propose these regulations as solutions. And it is our duty to ourselves and each other to be honest about that.

We believe we can build a world free of police, unapologetically. We know that will take all of us. We are not under any illusion that we can build that world overnight. Those who would suggest we believe that are gaslighting you away from important solutions that work to keep our people safe NOW.

The millions of us are here to remind lawmakers that we are bigger than monied interests like police unions and right-wing think-tanks. We know the path away from this disaster. It is on elected officials to deliver it.

We need bold and visionary action, right now. The call to #DefundPolice gets us that action, right now. It is both a clear solution and an important measure of accountability.

Right now.

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