Dismantling Systems that Enable Police Terror
In response to the growing number immigrants in the United States, “the first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time was created in Boston in 1838.” Enforcement looks totally different when black bodies are involved. The horror stories of the treatment of slaves is no secret. Being subjected to and threatened with death from noncompliance is something that black people are all too familiar with. Black people have marched, cried and died surrounding the death of their peers at the hands of those deputized to uphold the law.
Terror needs a host to thrive and continue to inflict damage. The agency of law enforcement is that host. However, that agency does not stand alone. There are other systems that uphold it and give it legs to continue to inflict harm upon black citizens. Those systems are inherently institutional, financial and political. The time is now for those systems to be disrupted. The agency of law enforcement does not deserve carte blanche protection, funding or authority. Especially since there are no real concrete efforts to prevent racist people from filling its ranks.
Law enforcement services are not free. Funding for local policing is typically derived from property taxes, asset forfeiture programs, civil fines and parking tickets, federal and state grants. Law enforcement budgets at the local level are often approved by the city council and signed off on by the Mayor. Agencies at the federal level are funded through the collection of federal income taxes. The court and probation system is funded through court fees and criminal fines. Correction institutions are also funded from taxes.
Frequently, funding for law enforcement is listed under public safety. this can also include, EMT, Fire and Rescue. Attempts at reducing funding for law enforcement services almost always face opposition. Typically crime stats gets tossed around, and crimes committed by black people become the running headlines at news agencies. These techniques are used to instill fear in order to justify the funding. Nevertheless, the funding structure for law enforcement services must be undone and redesigned. Income generated is often dependent up the targeting and incarceration of black and brown people. Furthermore, “though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015”.
Consider these facts as presented by the Sentencing Projects Report on Racial Disparities in U.S. Criminal Justice System:
- Nearly half (48%) of the 206,000 people serving life and “virtual life” prison sentences are African American and another 15% are Latino.
- At yearend 2015, over 6.7 million individuals were under some form of correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.
City budgets are often codified into city charters and/or constitutions. The Mayor or City Administrator prepares the budget and then submits it to council for approval. Funding for city budgets is primarily derived from property and sales taxes, fines and fees. At the state level, state, funding is primarily derived from personal and corporate income taxes as well as sales tax revenue. Typically legislators approve the budget, then the governor signs it. At the federal level, according to the national priorities project, funding for the federal budget is primarily derived from tax revenue, which includes corporate and personal income tax, Social Security and Medicare Tax, Estate Tax, and the Gift Tax.
Legislation and solutions currently exist that directly addresses a lot of the issues associated with violent law enforcement and the institutions that enable it. Politicians will have you thinking that dismantling an unjust criminal justice system is a pipe dream, but it’s not. Often times they just don’t have the political courage to do it. Here is a list of actions that elected politicians can take now!
- Redirect funding from School Resource Officer programs to mental health and well-being services at schools. The prison to pipeline crisis is amplified when police officers are placed in schools. Often black students are targeted as opposed to non-black students.
- Embrace community based safety systems
- Defund the police department and use the funds for housing, jobs, healthcare and transportation.
- Support bail reform and decarceration efforts.
- Enact legislation that prohibits district attorneys from receiving political donations from police unions.
Research and publications documenting cities that have embraced transformative funding and decarceration initiatives. This is not an all inclusive list.
- Bail Reform
- Police Funding Redirection Efforts
- Invest-Divest Strategies
- Transformative Bail Reform Curriculum for Organizers
- Police Demilitarization Legislation
- Use of Force Policies for 100 of the biggest cities
- 8 Can’t Wait Campaign
- California DA’s are calling for an end to political donations from police unions
- Demilitarization of Police Act Model Bill
Movements that are supportive of disrupting the criminal justice system. This is not an all inclusive list.
- Color of Change
- Join Campaign Zero
- Black Lives Matter
- Scalawag Magazine Organization
- Grassroots Law Project Organization
Actionable Steps that you can take as a voter and concerned citizen.
- Educate yourself on local government elections, budgets, and campaign financing and legislation sponsorship for local politicians. The first two resources are also great when deciding which political candidate to support.
- National League of Cities (select the topics tab)
- NAACP Civil Rights Legislative Report Card
- Attend local city council meetings in person or online. Review the budget documents. Become vocal about the “public safety” budget and dollars allotted especially for the police departments.
- Join local organizations dedicated to fighting local issues that impact black people.
- Register to vote and become an active. Visit vote.gov for comprehensive support on the voting process.
- Make local elections a priority. The supporting actors in police terror include governors, mayors, city council representatives, sheriffs, district attorneys, and judges. Pay close attention to those races.
- Support your local black owned media outlets (newspapers, bloggers and photographers)
- Educate your immediate family members on political issues (son, daughter, husband, etc.). Family reunions or family functions in general are a great place to introduce topics as well.
The criminal justice system depends on black and brown bodies to sustain it. The blood of black people can no longer be the oil that keeps the machine running. The approach to dismantling a system hell bent on destruction for past 400 years must be comprehensive, intentional, and unrelenting.
If we are intent on getting justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and so many others, the system must be dismantled.