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Day editorial against ‘defund the police’ was disappointing

It is beyond the scope of this response to answer fully the The Day's editorial, "Don’t let ill-advised slogan derail an important movement," which criticized calls to “defund the police.” Accordingly, I will focus on answering the main argument they raise: the need for police reform.

The Day Editorial Board has taken a clear position on the “defund the police” movement: “The goal should be to reform and improve policing, not to defund it.” They go on to list a number of reforms that should be supported including: "increased training," "community policing," "body cameras," "dashboard cameras," "better screening of future officers" and better response approach to crisis utilizing mental health professionals.

What the editorial ignores is that, not only have these reforms (excluding the last one) been tried and failed, but they have perpetrated and reinforced policing practices that people are currently rebelling against. “Body cameras” and “dashboard cameras” can be turned off and even when they are on, they have not led to more officers being prosecuted for misconduct, let alone murder.

“Community policing” in Camden, New Jersey established more contact between police and community members. This was precisely the problem — during the time “community policing” was implemented more civilian complaints were issued against the police department for use of “excessive force” than the cities of Newark and Jersey City combined.

“Increased training,” or better training, is a reform that sounds the most reasonable and yet is the most impossible to realize, assuming that the goal of the training is to lead to better outcomes for the policed community. As Alex Vitale argues in his book “The End of Policing,” police training conditions officers to view innocuous situations as potentially deadly. He explains, “the use of deadly force comes from the rise of independent training companies that specialize in in-service training, staffed by former police and military personnel. Some of these groups serve both military and police clients and emphasize military-style approaches and the ‘warrior mentality.’ The company CQB (Close Quarters Battle) boasts of training thousands of local, state, and federal police as well as American and foreign military units…”

And the editorial’s advice does not address the main problem that shapes policing today: racism. Racism influences the way people think of crime and the faulty conflation of crime with dark skin is well established. The results of a 1995 survey published in the Journal for Alcohol and Addiction revealed that when people were asked to imagine a drug user, 95% pictured a Black person and 5% imagined other racial groups, even though Blacks only represented 15% of drug users in 1995 while whites represented the vast majority.

In another study to measure cognitive racial bias in split decision-making, participants were asked to “shoot at” perceived threats. The study revealed that participants were more likely to shoot at the image of an unarmed Black man than one of an armed white man. Interestingly, the study demonstrated that Black participants reacted similarly to white participants, confirming the limitations in yet another commonly touted and failed police reform — diversifying the racial composition of police departments.

While The Day’s editorial tries to pass off "reform" as common sense, they miss what the “defund the police” movement is about: addressing the systemic problems with policing as an institution, and not as a few bad apples that can be reformed away. By arguing for “reform,” The Day has positioned itself as opposed to the developing movement because to “reform” the police will require more funding, not less.

What is most disappointing of all is that, by taking such a position, The Day denies people of color, and particularly youth of color, the right to not be policed and to have those resources reallocated into programs that can provide decent jobs, good housing, schools and community services for city youth and their families — the right that any white person living in the suburbs enjoys.

Fortunately, youth of color around the country are not following the lead of The Day and are shaping the national discussion through a myriad of grassroots organizing efforts that are inspired by the demand to defund the police.

Nathan Moore is a public-school teacher in Griswold and serves on the Representative Council of the Griswold Education Association. He lives in Preston.

 

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