Defund The Police For Hope And Change

It’s more than just a “snappy slogan.”

Kevin Breidenbach
Dec 9, 2020 · 5 min read

Pretty funny for Obama, the “Hope and Change” guy, to be talking about snappy slogans, especially considering his record in regards to his own slogans. The most egregious part is that he seems to be missing the point on purpose. As Lauren Martinchek points out, he’s “intelligent enough to understand that it’s not a slogan.” When most people make these kinds of arguments, it is usually reasonable to assume that they’re at least coming at it in good faith, and perhaps truly don’t understand that it isn’t just about reform. It seems much more likely that Obama actually knows better, and is just using this as an attempt to defang the movement, as he seems so fond of doing.

Martinchek also pointed to Ilhan Omar’s response, “It’s not a slogan but a policy demand.” There’s some other good responses on Twitter as well:

There is an effort, of which Obama seems to be part, to once again deflect the conversation. However, we have been down the road of reform before, and in many cases, these attempts only made the problem worse. As Stuart Schrader describes in , these “reforms” often only serve to polish the image of police, while simultaneously giving them more power, and often leading to giving them greater shares of budgets.

In the book , author Alex S. Vitale covers more of the problems with the idea of reform in detail. There is an excerpt on ’s website, in which one common misconception is addressed, that being the idea that “diversity and multicultural training” could help. Vitale explains that this “is not a new idea, nor is it terribly effective,” noting,

also cites studies which show that the race of individual officers has “no effect,” noting that this again seems to be due to “systematic problems” within the departments themselves, as well as the fact that “departmental priorities are set by local political leaders.” The “War on Drugs” is given as an example, which the author points out is “waged almost exclusively in nonwhite neighborhoods.”

Another thing Vitale addresses in the book is body cameras. One problem here is that police have “failed to turn on their cameras” in multiple shooting cases. Another is that “body cameras are only as effective as the accountability mechanisms in place,” and these are often weak, and undermined by other factors, from politics (the office of DA tends to be an elected position) to state laws authorizing police use of force. He brings up another issue related to the use of these cameras, which is that they “raise important privacy and civil liberties concerns.” Vitale points to the fact that these videos have been used to form databases used by law enforcement to create “‘red files’ of political activists” and others, often even “individuals who are not accused of criminal behavior.”

“We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.”

Photo: Liz Henry | CC-BY-ND

Talk of ineffective accountability measures and people who haven’t been accused of crimes brings to mind the tragic case of Elijah McClain. There are thousands of other people who have been wrongfully killed in circumstances that fit that description as well, but Elijah comes to mind because I just recently saw that the city of Aurora is moving to dismiss the wrongful death lawsuit brought against the city, as well as cops and paramedics involved, by his family. This case not only shows examples of weak accountability and the failure of training and body cameras to change anything, it also highlights another example of failed reform. Although McClain appears to have been posing no threat, police put him in a chokehold, and then called the paramedics, who injected him with ketamine. As reports, “He had a heart attack on the way to the hospital, and died days later, after he was declared brain dead.” This shows how even efforts to involve medical professionals or others as appropriate to the situation are not a solution to the problem of police violence, at least, not as long as the police are still involved.

The conception of reform that most members of the public hold seems to be rooted in the idea that the police are a force for good at the core, and necessary for public safety. As Assistant Professor of Justice Studies and Sociology at Norwich University Connie Hassett-Walker explains in a piece on , modern police forces actually trace their origins to slave patrols and centralized municipal departments that “were overwhelmingly white, male and more focused on responding to disorder than crime.” The article cites criminologist Gary Potter, whose work shows that the purpose of these early police departments was “to control a ‘dangerous underclass’ that included African Americans, immigrants and the poor.”

On the subject of public safety, as Mariame Kaba wrote in the ,

The 8toabolition website contains a list of “community models,” noting that “There are many we have not included and many that have not even been tried yet.”

Critics of the “Defund the Police” movement often claim that the saying itself is confusing, and say that if we really mean “reform the police,” we should say that. However, if one takes the time to listen to what’s truly being said, it’s clear that the “reform” talk actually does more to confuse the issue, and leads to things like Biden proposing that we give police even more funding. While these types of proposals may often seem well-intentioned, evidence shows yet again that such efforts “are often designed in ways that incentivize harmful policing and undermine local and state political accountability.”

To quote another thing I’ve seen going around Twitter: “Yes we can defund the police.” How’s that for snappy?

Further reading:

What Is Abolition? by Critical Resistance

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis

Pacifying the Homeland: Intelligence Fusion and Mass Supervision by Brendan McQuade

Politically Speaking

We all view the world through a unique lens.

Kevin Breidenbach

Written by

Mountain hermit, maker of strange noises. Deeply disturbed, but not surprised. He/him. Please consider donating here: https://liberapay.com/nivekbr/

Politically Speaking

We all view the world through a unique lens. Politics is in literally everything from our churches to our social organizations to news events and crime to our governments. This is the place to share your view, regardless of your political leanings: all are welcome.

Kevin Breidenbach

Written by

Mountain hermit, maker of strange noises. Deeply disturbed, but not surprised. He/him. Please consider donating here: https://liberapay.com/nivekbr/

Politically Speaking

We all view the world through a unique lens. Politics is in literally everything from our churches to our social organizations to news events and crime to our governments. This is the place to share your view, regardless of your political leanings: all are welcome.

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