This is the moment: Defund the police, reinvest in people | Opinion

June 17, 2020 11:46 am

Officers with tear gas and “non-lethal” projectiles line up across from protesters on Saturday, 5/30/20 (Pittsburgh Current photo)

By Brandi Fisher

No matter what we look like or where we live, most of us want our families to be whole and our communities to be vibrant. But the people entrusted to serve and protect our communities are killing us instead. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks, Antwon Rose II and so many others are just the latest in a centuries-long pattern of police violence, stretching back to slave patrols.

Police brutality against Black people is not exceptional; it is part and parcel of a country founded on the backs of slaves. Put simply: the system is not broken; it was designed to work this way.

It has become clearer than ever that the role of policing as we know it is to prioritize property and capital over people. The role of the police is to figuratively and literally prioritize protecting broken windows over Black lives. It’s long past time to defund the police and begin redirecting those millions into under resourced communities that need resources to thrive.

For years I have listened to, felt, and been part of the outpouring of pain, grief, trauma, and anger over the continued violence and murder of Black victims at the hands of police. In America, we are not all equally protected or equally free.

We do not experience justice equally. And no amount of diversity, inclusiveness, de-escalation training, or other police reform measures can fix a criminal legal system rooted in white supremacy. Just today we learned that the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta completed a nine-hour de-escalation course on April 24; less than three weeks before shooting Brooks in the back.

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When we say defund the police, we are arguing that it’s time to dispense with the idea that police officers keep communities safe, at least when it comes to Black and Brown people. It is time to dispense with the notion that they just need more training.

We’re arguing for investing our capital and operating funds in people – homes, living wage jobs, education, mental health services and the needs that ensure a dignified life for every single resident – the structures of society that really keep people safe and cared for.

Defunding the police does not mean instantly defunding every municipality’s police bureau. It means we stop trying to manage problems of poverty and systemic barriers by investing millions of dollars on ineffective procedural reforms that provide cover for the expanded use of policing. We need to replace cops in schools with social workers and mental health professionals.

We need to replace police officers forced to act as social workers and mental health professionals with actual social workers and mental health professionals. We need to recognize that marginalized communities need resources to thrive, and our elected representatives should listen to Black leaders and community members demanding to redirect millions in policing resources into community-based initiatives that can produce real safety and security without the violence and racism inherent in the criminal legal system.

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In his recent Capital-Star op-Ed, Why ‘Defund the Police’ is a slogan ripe for Republican exploitation and distortion, syndicated columnist Dick Polman argues that our demand to defund police hands President Donald Trump a weapon with which to win reelection.

Let me be clear: we have come together to stand up for the promise of justice for all — to demand an end to brutality against Black people — precisely because we know the existential importance of this election.

We know that Trump came to power by dividing us from each other based on what we look like, where we come from, or how we live.

He tries to get us to blame one another; from Black people to new immigrants, first responders to governors, to cover up his failures and keep handing kickbacks to the 1 percent.

The only way to defeat Trump is to help people realize that as long as he is distracting us by blaming someone else, his corporate friends can pick our pockets. We are not playing his game.

The uprising we’re witnessing and the demand to defund police is an example of everyday Americans speaking directly to our country’s police state in its own language.

These are times of extraordinary courage and progress. People from all walks of life are coming together to demand change, just as people did in our past for everything from civil rights to unions and marriage equality to voting.

All of the gains we have ever made have come from people refusing to accept that what is true today seals our fate for tomorrow. We must use every tool available from marching to voting to make this a country we can be proud to call home. And we must not be afraid to demand the humanity and investment we deserve.

We are coming together – from cities to suburbs to towns – in anger and anguish to defend Black lives and to replace white supremacy with a democracy where each of our voices are heard and where every one of us can breathe. Focusing on slogans and half-measures is a distraction from what matters and a barrier to pursuing equal justice for all.

Until everyone sees and values Black people as equally worthy of respect, people of good conscience should be outraged, and our demands should reflect our reality.

We know a better future is possible. We can make this a place where all of us have our humanity respected. And where we vote in real leaders who reflect the very best of every kind of American.

Brandi Fisher is the executive director of the advocacy group the Alliance for Police Accountability. She writes from Pittsburgh.

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