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Defund the police? Not if you want to stay safe

The Millerton News Editorial

According to the Minnesota newspaper, the Star Tribune, organizers of the social justice group, Black Visions, who are charging the Minneapolis Police Department “can’t be reformed through initiatives like training and body cameras” and therefore should be dismantled, are working to envision a “police-free future.” According to Star Tribune reporter Liz Navratil, reformers plan to invest in more “community initiatives like mental health and having community members respond to public safety issues.”

OK, there’s nothing wrong with adding community initiatives that strengthen mental health support, and maybe it’s all right to have properly trained community members who can safely respond to public safety issues when it’s appropriate to do so. And that’s a big maybe, dependent on a lot. But why do police departments have to be sacrificed for that to happen?

Yet that is exactly what nine out of 12 Minneapolis City Council members announced that they plan to do on Sunday, June 7, nearly two weeks after the May 25 killing of 46 year old George Floyd, a Black man, by 44 year old White ex-cop Derek Chauvin. Floyd’s death has sparked protests around the world about police brutality and systemic racism, reigniting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Those protests have headed in what we consider a dangerous direction — with demonstrators calling for police departments to be defunded — but do protesters really know what they’re asking for? 

There is a need for police reform: increased training, improved community outreach, more sensitivity. Absolutely. There’s always room for improvement. However, abolishing law enforcement would give free rein to criminal minds intent on doing harm. What we need is a societal change.

And although a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council wants to disband its police force, the city’s mayor does not. Mayor Jacob Frey said this past weekend that he does not support “the full abolition of the police department” to a jeering crowd, which forced him to flee a rally he was at.

“People continue to require service in many forms from our public safety offices, whether in times of domestic violence, or assistance in some of the most dire conditions,” he said in a Sunday interview, according to the Star Tribune article. 

He’s absolutely right. It is a matter of public safety. Our own Governor Andrew Cuomo knows that all too well, commenting on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Sunday, June 7, statement that he wants to cut city funding for its police department after 10 nights of protesters calling for change. Though de Blasio was vague with figures, he said he wants to divert money from the department’s annual $6 billion budget to social services. He has until July 1 to hash out the details for his roughly $90 billion city budget with the City Council, of which roughly 6% typically goes toward policing.

But Cuomo said no way will New York police be defunded at his Sunday night press conference — stressing the key role the police play in protecting the public — especially during times of upheaval and unrest like we’re currently experiencing.

“Look at that looting. It was frightening,” the governor said. “It was criminals who were exploiting the situation who were opportunistic, who were just stealing.”

That doesn’t mean lawmakers are unwilling to take action. Congressional Democrats unveiled legislation Monday, June 8, for nationwide standards for police accountability. Though the bill does not deal with defunding police departments, it does mandate states and municipalities implement mandatory bias training in order to qualify for federal funds, according to The New York Times.

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), the Democratic chairwoman of the House’s Congressional Black Caucus, spoke about the bill on CNN on Sunday. 

“I don’t believe that you should disband police departments,” she said. “But I do think that in cities and states, we need to look at how we are spending resources and invest more in our communities.”

Democrats in the House and Senate named the bill the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. It aims to fight racial inequality and excessive use of force by law enforcement. According to The New York Times, “It would create a national registry to track police misconduct and require that law enforcement agencies report data on the use of force, as well as ban certain chokeholds and other practices … that left black Americans dead.”

So, there are options other than dismantling our police departments — departments made up of men and women who, by and large, bravely and honorably serve to protect each and every one of us when we need them most. Please, take a moment to imagine a world without police. Who would help you when your dog gets stolen, when you get mugged, when your wife or daughter is raped, when your child is kidnapped, when your mother or father is killed, or your car is vandalized, when your business or home is burglarized, when your child’s school is threatened with a bomb or a mass shooting, when you have an accident or any other kind of emergency? There are so many reasons why we depend on the police. Make no mistake about it — the police are essential to keeping law and order — and law and order are essential to maintaining a civil society — and isn’t that what we all want and deserve?

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