Increases in police funding will not make Black people safe, it is time city leaders listened
Due to the pressures and coverage of Black & brown organizers’ efforts across the country, police presence is decreasing in public schools.
by Philip V. McHarris
Communities directly impacted by violence are starting to advocate for the diversion of funds from policing towards more community based solutions to violence and harm. Unfortunately, city leaders are not listening.
Early in December, residents and community organizers attended the Minneapolis City budget hearing. They argued against allocating funds for additional police officers, and instead suggested the city invest money in prevention programs and community institutions. The majority of residents that attended the budget meetings leading up to the budget voting also disagreed with increasing money for additional police.
Members of Reclaim the Block, who also argued against increasing police funding in 2018, spoke out and argued that an investment in police resources pushed communities further away from safety. But, on December 11th, the City Council voted to pass the Mayor’s budget anyway.
For decades, police were at the center of conversations around ways to curb violence and foster public safety. City leaders have advocated for increased funding and resources for policing as a way to appeal to the desire for safety. But the tides are changing. Black communities are beginning to push for fewer cops and less money channeled towards policing.
The push in Minneapolis follows on the heels of other communities across the country pushing for invest-divest campaigns — the framework for decreasing police resources for community investments — successfully in Milwaukee and Durham.
Still, the push towards unlinking the association between policing and safety is building momentum.
Beginning in the 1920s and 30s, a professionalization era of policing sought to rid American police forces of corruption and their close ties with political elites and emphasized crime control and public safety as their primary responsibilities. As a result of pressure around the rampant corruption and close ties that police maintained with politicians, efforts were made to professionalize police departments and make policing legitimate.
But despite these shifts, race and racism continued to impact policing. While departments were being professionalized across the US, police, by and large, continued to maintain the racial order by enforcing Jim Crow. As immigrants began to arrive in the United States at increasing rates, police also expanded their efforts to engage in social control of new racial-ethnic groups.
The perceived gains of the reform era with respect to ridding corruption may have benefited whites, as argued, but did not offer many benefits to Black and other marginalized groups. In many ways, policing in the US has long centered on the maintenance of racial and class orders.
Over the last 40 years, Black communities have experienced cuts to social spending in order to increase police spending. Decades of investing in policing and punishment have contributed to violence and instability. And while investing in social spending through job creation, education and local non-profits could have curbed crime, the government chose to rely on the police force, arrests and jail cells instead. In essence, this prioritization of carcerality has negatively impacted the possibilities of community power and public safety.
Black communities in particular are fighting back and making the connections between under resourced, over-populated areas, and over-policing.
One major turn in decentering policing from safety has been the release of The Movement for Black Lives policy platform, a comprehensive agenda that emerged from organizers operating under the Black Lives Matter Movement. The invest-divest section of the Movement for Black Lives platform states, “We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities.”
This platform has functioned as the first national push towards an invest-divest campaign. It has influenced many policy efforts amongst Black communities across the country operating within the larger Movement for Black Lives landscape and it touches on the ways that Black folks have always existed beyond it.
Schools throughout the US have also been investing in more police and security presence. In 2019, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia unveiled a $69 million dollar security plan for schools that included a $500,000 anti-gang initiative, as well as a $30,000 budget for police, security cameras and metal detectors.
Due to the pressures and coverage of Black and Latinx organizers’ efforts across the country, police presence is decreasing in public schools. More folks are speaking out. In California, students have police on their campuses but no counselors to provide social and mental health support.
Black communities are organizing across the country to push city leaders to listen to calls for community investment rather than pouring more money into policing and punishment. In the process, they are contending with police unions and city leaders that are deeply opposed to divesting from the 100-billion dollars spent annually on policing in the United States, but still, they are pushing forward with invest-divest campaigns.
As the US continues to experience a range of political shifts from the local to the national level, participatory budgeting, a strategy that advocates for direct community decision making in budget decisions may may be the key to invest-divest campaigns. Allowing communities to decide how funds are allocated in their localities offers an alternative, sustainable way to cultivate safety and prevent future budget decisions that hurt, rather than help, the folks they claim to care about.
Philip V. McHarris is a PhD candidate at Yale University. Philip was a founding member of the NYC chapter of BYP 100.