We still have a little bit of time left stuck at home with our families, and that means just a little bit more time to argue about…well, whatever your most stubborn loved one chooses that day. Personally, I’m thinking of these next couple of weeks as my closing arguments in defense of defunding the police. If you’re looking for some more support on this topic to throw at your family, keep reading.
Since the Black Lives Matter protests began in June, there has been a ceaseless call for defunding the police. Black people, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and other marginalized groups have been calling for the abolition of police and policing as we know it for a long time, but now the idea has entered the mainstream. As an African and African American Studies major–and just as a human being who pays attention to the news–I was on board with the movement from the first time I heard of it, but my experiences this summer have fully ignited my passion for abolishing the police.
On the night of June 1, I, along with 300 other protestors, was detained during a peaceful march in Dallas. As we waited on a bridge for three hours, zip-tied and denied access to food, water, or restrooms, my friends and I began to take note of note of the sheer quantity of law enforcement officials around us. We saw DPD, Texas State Troopers, National Guard, SWAT, and, oddly enough, FBI Agents around us; there were enough officers for each of us to be personally escorted off the bridge. More frightening, however, was the ratio of weapons to protestors. For each of us, there were at least two firearms, batons, or rubber bullet guns.
On the morning of June 8, I began my work for the Reentry Program of the Criminal Justice Resource Center in Durham. Ever since, I’ve been reading about city and county governments and community organizations coming together to treat incarcerated people with dignity and respect. This work is about humanity and having faith in your fellow human beings, yet reentry councils and organizations have so little money with which to provide these life-affirming services. Reentry staff in North Carolina shouldn’t have to host a breakfast for private landlords in order to locate housing for justice-involved individuals. We should celebrate how creative those working in reentry are with the money they have, but we should resent the need to be so creative. Reentry work gets to the heart of what people claim the prison system seeks to accomplish: rehabilitation. And yet, folks doing this work have to beg for funding.
These two experiences–the protest and my work with CJRC–are deeply connected by that very issue: funding. Why is it that every law enforcement officer I saw had full armor and at least one firearm, yet newly released individuals must rely on Catholic charities for their first meal as a free person? Why are there so many cops ready to be dispatched to a peaceful protest, and so few mental health workers hired to support justice-involved individuals?
So, next time you hear someone oppose defunding the police, or question whether a reallocation of funds would be effective, tell them about reentry. If we truly believe in justice and safety and reducing recidivism and all of the other things people claim are accomplished by the criminal justice system, we need to support reentry work. Reentry and other community-based programs need money, and law enforcement has way too much money. This seems like an easy problem to solve now, right?