"Defund the police" movement still alive and well

"Defund the police" movement still alive and well
AP Photo/Matt York

A couple of years ago, the phrase “defund the police” was just about everywhere. People were tripping over themselves to say that police budgets needed to be slashed and those funds needed to be directed elsewhere, toward programs that would prevent violence.

Now, I’ve advocated for such programs myself. I think that’s really how we’ll get ahead on violent crime. I just don’t think pulling money from police departments is a good idea.

And there’s evidence that it’s not.

In fact, as violent crime surged, the phrase “defund the police” fell out of vogue. Suddenly, people weren’t comfortable with the idea of gutting police budgets when people were being gunned down in the streets.

Yet the ideas remain.

Over at Governing.com, a writer starts off by recounting an anecdote a neighbor told him about a disagreement over lawn maintenance resulting in a death threat. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t. I don’t know, I don’t care.

However, the author then uses that as a springboard to talk about supposed violence prevention efforts instead of increasing police budgets.

In unpacking this conflict, there are many angles to pursue. First let’s stipulate, and I believe we all would agree, that my older neighbor ought to be able to live free of the fear of violence. Then there’s the question of whether the young man is mentally competent. Federal and state laws prohibit the mentally incapacitated from possessing firearms. But mental competence must be certified by courts, boards or commissions, and this is where things fall apart. Given the large numbers of people suffering from mental health issues in this country, it is impossible to keep guns out the hands of all of them.

To make matters worse, a number of states, including my home state of Georgia, have relaxed their handgun policies to the point that individuals do not have to have a license to carry a weapon either openly or concealed. World Population Review lists 21 states with the most lenient gun laws. In the face of rising gun violence, these states justify their policies by citing the Second Amendment.

We need a better understanding of this amendment, but we also must have a better solution to the rise of violent crime other than merely increasing police funding. Toward this end, it may be wise to take another look at some of the solutions proposed by the Black Lives Matter movement. They advocate shifting some local-government resources to areas related to public safety but not policing per se. They and others suggest that communities need counselors, mediators and others who can help residents defuse conflict and resolve differences peacefully. Also, all of us, particularly young men, need a better understanding of the responsibilities of masculinity and of how to best protect our families. One cannot do that from inside a prison or, worse, from inside a coffin. We must help young people, who are the ones most inclined to commit violent crimes, to obtain the skills to resolve conflicts peacefully and understand how sacred life is — theirs and others.

The emphasis is mine, but it’s important. That is literally what the “Defund the police” crowd demanded. They wanted funding yanked from law enforcement and put toward these programs.

The problem was, these programs take years to show any appreciable results, if they ever do. They’re not going to mitigate a violent crime surge. For that, you need more police to deter and investigate crimes, arresting perpetrators and making the streets safer.

Then again, this is someone who sends a lot of mixed signals.

You probably noticed the reference to gun control above. The author isn’t a fan of our gun rights. So, he thinks we need gun control.

This will require shared responsibility from family, public officials and educators. To begin with, public officials should stop making it easier to obtain or carry a firearm. They need to bring back or keep intact gun registration laws and get rid of state-level policies like “stand your ground.” Local officials need to stop prioritizing the funding of police operations as crime continues to climb. Some of this funding needs to go toward mental health professionals, mediators, structured programming in recreation and workforce investment. It will take guts to change the paradigm of funding police first, but in the end it will save lives and make our communities safer.

My question for him is how are you going to enforce these gun control measures when you defund the police?

After all, guess who is generally tasked with maintaining gun registries? It’s not your local social worker. It’s the police.

Plus, what about arrests for those who carry an unregistered gun? If you want to defund the police, why also advocate for a policy that will lead to more and more arrests? Public defenders are siding with gun rights activists more and more because those impacted by gun control laws, particularly those requiring registration, aren’t white, middle-class guys in the suburbs.

The truth is, you can’t have it both ways. You either want to defund the police or you want gun control.

I mean, you can want both, but you’re not going to get it.

Yet the import takeaway here is that the ideas we know of as “Defund the Police” are still alive and well. They just won’t use the term because it’s now considered toxic. The problem is, it wasn’t just the name that was the issue, but the ideas themselves.