Opinion Columnists Brent Dondalski and Emmanuel Simon debate calls to defund the police. Dondalski argues for defunding the police, Simon argues against.
Pro: Why We Must Rethink Our Criminal Justice System By Defunding the Police
By Brent Dondalski
Defunding the police is a necessary step towards restorative justice in America, and would hopefully lead us out of this abusive cycle of oppression and punishment. Defunding the police is not about “sticking it to cops,” but rather about rethinking what crime is, how we want to structure our society, and separating fact from fiction. You’ll notice that many (if not all) counterarguments to defund the police revolve around the same question: well who is going to deal with all the rampant crime? This is a reasonable question, and one I can best answer with another question: what if crime was not so rampant?
Defunding the police must start with an honest conversation about how the police actually function in our society. In mainstream America they play a savior role; they are the one thing separating our civilization from The Purge. However, this is a warped misconception. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015 only 47% of violent crime and 35% of property crime was reported to the police. Of those reported crimes, 54% of violent crimes and 81% of property crimes went unsolved. What makes these statistics even more surprising is the fact that the vast majority of crimes in America are non violent property crimes. For every 5 murders, there are 1549.5 nonviolent thefts, according to the Pew Research Center. So the question of who will solve our crimes is a bit misguided, since the current system in place is already extremely ineffective at combatting crime.
Police far too often seem more committed to maintaining their position of power than actually helping people. Over the past decade journalists at USA Today uncovered at least 85,000 officers who have received misconduct complaints and a total of at least 200,000 instances of misconduct, while also noticing a trend of these complaints being filed away and left to be forgotten. Derek Chauvin, the police officer who murdered George Floyd, had 17 complaints against him by the time he knelt on George Floyd’s neck.
The issue isn’t that of individual corrupt police officers however: it’s the whole system. You may hear people claim it’s “a few bad apples” but they are forgetting the rest of the phrase: “a few bad apples spoil the bunch.” The issue isn’t just Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd in broad daylight; it’s Officer Tou Thao standing by, watching this innocent man die, and protecting Chauvin while preventing pedestrians from stepping in and stopping the abuse. It’s a hauntingly accurate depiction of policing in America.
For years the unwritten “blue wall of silence” has permeated American police departments. Simply put, police don’t like holding each other accountable. In an interview with the Human Rights Watch, former NYPD Officer Bernard Cawley asserts that “cops don't tell on cops....[I]f a cop decided to tell on me, his career's ruined....[H]e's going to be labeled as a rat.” In fact, accountability is disincentivized. Take former Buffalo police officer Cariol Horne for example, who attempted to physically stop fellow officer Gregory Kwiatkowski from beating a black man in handcuffs. Afterwards, the other officers on the scene facetiously claimed Horne had endangered Kwiatkowski, and she was subsequently fired by the department just months before collecting her pension. A year later, Kwiatkowski was put in prison for slamming handcuffed teens into his police car one by one after pulling them over. Just take a look at this Twitter thread (hyperlink: https://twitter.com/greg_doucette/status/1266753721855291395) from the summer protests to see hundreds of instances of police officers collectively inflicting violence on protesters.
The current police system is historically entrenched in racism as well. Any look at the disproportionate incarceration rates or sentencing rates and one can see a difference. The war on drugs, specifically, has been carried out by police as a way to harm people of color. One of Nixon’s top aides, John Ehrlichman, specifically admitted “we knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities” according to CNN.
How do we reconcile with these phenomena? What is the solution? First we must recognize that the police system isn’t designed to prevent crime. Police show up after a crime has already been committed then (hopefully) seek the perpetrator after the fact for punishment. They don’t actually prevent the crime from happening in the first place. People commit crime due to their unsatisfactory material conditions such as poverty, lack of educational opportunities, lack of housing, etc. It’s why property theft is so astronomically more frequent than assault or murder.
Yet our society does little to address these factors in the pursuit of reducing crime. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, K-12 education funding “has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.” We continue to increase police budgets every year despite the crime rate having drastically fallen since the 90’s. According to the Washington Post, the U.S. spend twice as much on police, prison, and courts than on social welfare programs.
This is where defunding the police is important. It makes it so we can divest these excessive police budgets into social services that can lift people out of poverty or whatever situation they are in. Is a bad home life pushing a teenager to the streets? Invest in after school programs. Invest in mentorship programs. Is someone experiencing food insecurity? Invest in food distribution programs so that they become widely available. Is someone having a mental health crisis? A stranger with a gun probably is not the answer; maybe a mental health professional can help deescalate. The question of who will deal with rampant crime is built on the assumption that crime is a given that comes with civilization. While this is true to a certain extent, most crime arises out of unjust societal factors. Defunding the police isn’t just about shrinking them so their abusive presence is eliminated from communities, it’s about rendering them obsolete. Take Camdem, New Jersey for example, where police were notoriously corrupt and the homicide rate was equivalent to El Salvador. They disbanded their unionized police force in favor of a new smaller and less expensive agency. This allowed more money to be invested into social programs as well as lessening the police presence in general. Pair this with the new agency’s involvement with the ACLU and other restorative justice organizations and Camdem saw their crime rate drop 42% as well as excessive force complaints drop 95% in just seven years according to CTVNews and Yahoo Finance.
Defunding the police is a necessary policy demand as well as an important conceptual framework. A lot of arguments against defunding the police aren’t unreasonable, but they lack imagination. Instead of asking who would solve rampant crime, why don’t we imagine a society where crime is not rampant in the first place? Divesting police budgets would mean giving money to underserved communities and individuals, providing them with opportunities that will lead them down a different path. Instead of asking how this would affect these people’s employment status, why don’t we ask which jobs are necessary for society? Maybe people should take a job that builds shelters for the unhoused, rather than one that spends money on weapons that look like they’re from a Call of Duty expansion pack.
We ask police to respond to all of society’s ills while doing little to prevent these ills at the root. Defunding the police would mean having people more specialized in certain fields like psychiatry deal with their respective issues like mental health crises. This would even benefit a smaller detective agency by freeing up time to deal with more serious crimes such as murder and sexual assault. However even issues like sexual assault could use other services like women’s shelters or therapy to alleviate victims traumas in a way police are not well equipped to do.
Overall defunding the police would help free Americans from a cycle of violence and punishment. Crime will continue to prevail if not dealt with at the root. Additionally, pouring more police into communities will likely harm them further, giving way for more abuse to take place and more of the budget to occupy. Divesting into social programs that will help people with their material conditions will ultimately benefit society far more than the current policing system does.
For more information regarding the research used for this article please follow the links below:
Con: Defunding Bad Ideas, An Argument Against Defunding the Police
By Emmanuel Simon
Defunding the police would be detrimental to the safety and well-being of the American people. By defunding the police, people mean relocating either some or all funds from the police, the latter resulting in getting rid of the police entirely. It should be immediately obvious that defunding the police isn’t currently a good idea since those who advocate to defund them don’t even agree on what they mean. We might as well just end the debate here. But instead, I will show why these demands are merely nonsensical.
Most who argue in favor of defunding the police do so in order to do away with police brutality and abuse. I mean, if there are no police, there can’t be any police brutality by definition right? But this line of reasoning shatters into pieces when it is put in practice. Take a look at what has happened in Minneapolis for example. The American people in Minneapolis demanded to defund the police and got exactly what they wanted, with a teeny-tiny exception. For some reason, as police officers in Minneapolis were put out of their jobs, murders and rapes increased at significant rates. I’m no genius, but I think there might be a correlation. As a response the Americans in Minneapolis then demanded for more policing, spending 6.4 million dollars to hire more police.
What happened in Minneapolis shows us two things. First, defunding the police doesn’t work. On top of all the other social programs that are meant to help others, we need the police. It's just a fact. Second, that if we want to rid crime and all other injustices, we have to start with changing people's hearts. I’m all for getting rid of officers who use their power to oppress the innocent. But if Americans want reform, defunding the police will only hurt us as it did in Minneapolis. We can get rid of bad cops and keep the good cops without having to get rid of all cops.
Furthermore, isn’t it insensitive to defund the police amongst the COVID crisis? Millions of Americans have been impacted by COVID, many even losing their jobs. Those who want to defund the police forget to take into consideration that there are many underprivileged officers who work for the police force. To advocate for social programs that help people along with defunding the police is hypocritical at best. The death rate in the U.S. due to suicides has increased by 20-30% due to unemployment. It’s unintelligible to even imagine that defunding the police will solve our problems. Rather, defunding the police potentially leads to suicides by the former officers. The goal in our America is to save innocent lives, not to get them killed.
But perhaps one might still not be convinced. Perhaps one might agree with the popular argument that,‘the police need to be defunded because their budgets are so disproportionate when compared to other social services that are intended to help people.’ One only needs to look at our government’s yearly spending to see that the facts state otherwise. At a Federal, State, and Local level, healthcare, welfare, transportation, and education programs are funded more than the police. These programs are meant to help people. Thus, the popular argument that police budgets are disproportionate to other social services is merely dishonest.
Another common argument against defunding the police is that the police only show up after a crime has occurred. This is sometimes true. However, such an argument forgets that police can prevent crimes or accidents before they occur. People get pulled over for speeding and drunk driving all the time. Generally, speeders and drunk-drivers put those lives who are on the road more at risk. Furthermore, the police also take care of noise complaints. If a member in the community blasts their music in the middle of the night, one might try to tell that person to quiet down. But if they don’t, then what? The view that police only show up after a crime has occurred doesn’t take into account the facts as a whole, but only picks and chooses some to fit a certain narrative.
Let’s also not forget about the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. He was shot dead at the hands of Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed that he did not murder Martin, but instead acted out of self-defense. Those who thought Trayvon Martin was unjustly murdered argued that the police, and not members of the community, should enforce the law. Are these the same people who want to defund the police? Did those who demand to defund the police forget about what happened to Trayvon Martin? Their own narratives don’t match up.
Presidents Obama and Biden certainly haven’t forgotten, yet they find themselves opposed to their own party when it comes to defunding the police. Though Obama’s position is not identical to mine, he does say something quite interesting. ‘I think the phrase implies that somehow we could do without the police or that the police are the only source of our problem.’ We as a community need the police.
President Biden also says something quite hilarious. During Biden and Trump’s first debate in 2020, President Biden said that Trump ‘proposes cutting half a billion dollars of local police support,’ while Biden wants to continue supporting our police. According to the current President, if you wanted a president who would defund the police, Trump would have been your guy. Oh well, at least there’s still the 2024 election.
The narrative and arguments behind defunding the police are very attractive, until they are examined in light of the facts. I would, however, like to end by commending the other side. Their desire for justice is a noble desire. They seek a community of healing. I propose the following. If we want to heal as a community and fight against injustices, we have to love our enemies. This is a radically different solution than the one offered by the Marxists, where instead, we are told that the oppressed need to oppress the oppressors. The Marxist solution enacted makes us become the very monsters we are trying to get rid of. Like many in our community, I too would like to see better relations between the people and the police. But this can only be done through love.
A link noting the different meanings of defunding the police: https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/06/us/what-is-defund-police-trnd/index.html
Minneapolis on recruiting more police officers:
Data suggesting that unemployment during COVID-19 has increased suicide rates: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(20)30141-3/fulltext
Government Yearly Spending:
President Obama’s view on defunding the police:
President Biden’s view on defunding the police:
Melanie Moyer '22,