Just a few months ago, the defund police movement was gaining traction in many cities across country, but the popularity of the idea appears to be waning, particularly in cities that have seen a sharp rise in violent crime coinciding with a “reimagining” of policing. In Minneapolis, the push to defund police is meeting growing opposition from residents who complain that their neighborhoods are being turned into war zones, and a national poll released last week found just 18% of respondents were in favor of the movement.
The idea still has its defenders however, but as Abené Clayton of The Guardian reports, the shocking increase in homicides in Oakland, California could get in the way of Oakland’s effort to cut the police budget by 50% this year. In a story entitled “Surge In Gun Violence Is Stress Test For Oakland’s Defund The Police Campaign,” (a bizarre way to frame the staggering rise in homicides, in my opinion) Clayton frets that with homicides up by more than 300% compared to the same time period last year, Oakland’s violent criminals are providing reasons to keep funding the police department.
On Wednesday the city’s Reimagine Public Safety taskforce finished approving dozens of recommendations to take to city council. Upping investments in proven community violence prevention strategies and creating a program to respond to mental health crises without police present are included in the panoply of alternatives.
Even with these lofty goals and efforts to acknowledge the heavy toll of gun violence, several members of Oakland’s taskforce remain uneasy about measures that would significantly cut police presence, especially as the city loses ground in its years-long struggle to reduce gun violence.
“We’re supposed to address it all: the nonsense in policing and the nonsense in the community that is hurting us all. But it feels like the community issue is something that no one wants to touch,” echoed Antoine Towers, chair of the Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition, a non-law enforcement collective striving to interrupt cycles of violence.
Once California’s shelter-in-place order began, gun violence in the San Francisco Bay Area began to creep upward, and by the end of 2020 homicides – mostly by firearm –were up 35% compared with the year before. The increase was exceptionally painful in Oakland where gun deaths had been on a steady decline since 2012 and were on track to reach record lows in 2020.
So far this year, 29 people have been murdered in the city, 22 more deaths than last year in the same time period, according to the police department.
This period of gun violence led five Black members of Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce to write a letter to the group’s 12 other members expressing their concern that “even more lives will be lost if police are removed without an alternative response being put in place that is guaranteed to work as good as or better than the current system”.
You could argue that the current system in Oakland isn’t working well at all, given the rise in violent crime. The problem for the defund police activists is that there’s a growing recognition that the current system is still better than absolute chaos, which is a distinct possibility if the city’s police department budget is cut in half.
Ultimately, the goal should be to have a system that can effectively deal with violent crime without infringing on the rights of residents. Unfortunately, thanks in part to California’s gun control laws, residents in Oakland are experiencing a system that isn’t preventing violent crime, but is preventing them from protecting themselves with a firearm on the city’s streets.
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