It’s hard to watch the 24-hour news cycle without a story about police abuses of power or riots about the latest social outrage. Among many of these riots the message of defunding the police has become increasingly more prominent. Even politicians have started to use police defunding rhetoric in some cities. The main issue with rhetoric about defunding the police is that it only exacerbates the current divide between minorities and police officers. Increasing the divide between police and minorities in the current political climate is both divisive and extremely dangerous. The most important action to take in America now is to understand the main chain of events that started all this chaos.
The phrase “I can’t breathe” is something that many people in the United States have taken as a rallying call. After George Floyd died and was later immortalized in the cultural zeitgeist, thousands of protesters hit the streets to fight for justice. The protests have ranged from peaceful to chaotic race riots reminiscent of the Watts riots of the 60’s. Unfortunately, chaotic race riots have become the norm in many embroiled cities of the US which has left officers in a stressful position. Police officers have more intense work than ever before, but they are also being watched with a microscope. This combination of circumstances has led to violent police incidents that prompted many politicians and activists to take advantage of police defunding calls for brownie points in upcoming elections; The successful defunding of police may have side effects that could only worsen the situation in US cities.
The first issue I have with slashing police funding is that the internal crisis many police departments are having are becoming harder to solve. In a time when sensitivity training and internal investigations are being called for, the actual resources of many police departments are shrinking. The lower amount of resources means that departments can’t implement new training or start multiple investigations and effectively fight civil unrest without trade-offs. The financial squeeze on some departments might even discourage them from implementing new sensitivity procedures if the top brass does not think it is necessary now. Placing police departments in a financial vice grip should not be endorsed when police departments already have enough issues to deal with; However, externally an even bigger issue could shape police departments across the US for years to come.
Seeing police officers in riot gear being assaulted by an angry crowd does not inspire others to join the police call of duty and scares other officers who will most likely be in their position later. The police in recent months have abused by crowds all over the country and will continue to be abused until the civil unrest subsides. The racial revenge or forced retirement of police officers that comes from such civil unrest may be a victory for many activists, but that creates a new issue of who replaces officers that step down. Many people will likely be dissuaded from joining the brotherhood of police out of fear from having to face the chaos dominating the streets. The retiring of current officers and lowered recruitment of new officers could amplify the squeeze felt by all police departments currently. This squeeze created by recruitment, retirement, and racial revenge creates a “deadly snowball” that grows larger as more police incidents occur or are brought to light.
The “deadly snowball” made of a variety of factors in the current social climate has created an avalanche of unrest that seemingly only grows stronger. The avalanche of unrest has resulted in a wave of novel crises such as the Seattle Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone(CHAZ) and the Portland clashes between violent protesters and federal agents. Events such as the CHAZ fuel politically charged news stories which prompt politicians to adopt more divisive rhetoric regarding the police. This cycle of unrest now dominates politics and has become a top issue for both Biden and Trump heading into the November elections. Defunding the police is helping to make the violence on the streets worse instead of forcing police to reform positively. If we want to stop the political avalanche heading into November, the divide between police and citizens must be addressed.
George Floyd’s death highlighted the unequal relationship between minorities and police that exists in countries worldwide. An officer has the authority to physically dominate the oppressed individual with little to no consequence; However, in many places in the US that dynamic has been altered with recent police reforms and even more reforms have been proposed. The most important thing that these reforms should seek to do is break down the paradigm of the invincible police officer. Many minorities are infuriated that police have legally bullied them for years without recompense. Legal changes that make all officers in a situation responsible to stop abuses or allow certain legal protections of officers to not apply in blatant abuse cases would force abusive police officers to think twice. The legal changes would also provide a common framework to indict officers who abuse their power which would make suing the police significantly easier for wronged citizens. The wave of civil unrest will not be ended by more violence or budget cuts, but by sweeping legal changes that create a new landscape for wronged individuals.