Updated: Oct 18, 2021
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author.
On May 25, an African-American man was murdered by four police officers after he paid for cigarettes with a $20 bill that looked fake. That man was George Floyd, and his death sparked nationwide protests and demands for reform of the police. But he was not the only African-American unfairly punished. Other notable individuals include Breonna Taylor, an EMT shot and killed while sleeping; Ahmaud Arbery, whose death was dismissed by police until a video of his shooting was released; Elijah McClain, murdered for wearing a ski mask; and Rayshard Brooks, killed for sleeping in his car in a Wendy’s parking lot. The list of wrongful deaths and subsequent police cover-ups goes on and on. Their deaths prompted a complex series of events in which police used unnecessary levels of force against largely peaceful protestors, reporters, and politicians alike, President Trump declared opposition to fascism as a terrorist organization, and a now-dismantled police-free zone was established in Seattle.
Many protesters against police brutality have called for defunding the police, while others have been more moderate and have asked only for reform. Opponents and supporters of law enforcement on the other hand, have put their support behind police officers, saying that a few bad officers don’t mean that all cops are bad. But the reality is that silence is compliance. Other police officers not speaking out about the incident and, in the case of Breonna Taylor, even trying to cover it up by planting a gun next to her dead body, show that the police department simply did not care about preventing unnecessary deaths of African-American civilians. Another key talking point of opponents of defunding is that defunding the police will put citizens in danger due to lack of police protection. However, defunding the police means reallocating some of the funds dedicated to police departments to other places, such as mental health and counseling services so that fewer crimes would happen in the first place.
America had about 15% fewer violent crimes in 2017 compared to 1977 even though real police funding nearly tripled in that same time period. Additionally, new crime-solving techniques, such as DNA profiling, deterred many potential criminals, showing that police departments do not need as much money as they receive in order to reduce crime. Instead, by using a social investment model, which prioritizes compassion over crackdowns by spending more on welfare, education, and healthcare and less on prisons and law enforcement, the roots of crime would be less likely to take place. For example, over one in five prisoners committed their most serious crime to obtain drugs or money for drugs, and another one in five crimes were mostly or directly due to mental illness. If more tax money was invested into mental health services instead of into the police and prisons, then these types of crimes would occur much less frequently, which would free up resources that can go back into the community. Currently, however, mental health services and other forms of social support get very little attention. For example, in Rockville, MD, a city of over 70,000 people, community services got $1.8 million in the 2020 fiscal year, which averaged out to just $25 per resident for that fiscal year. Throw in other forms of social support and the total is still under $70. Meanwhile, police got about $12.5 million, or $175 per resident. In Fairfax City, VA, the amount of funding social services received for the 2019 fiscal year was half that of the police department. This trend continues all the way to the nation’s capital where the police received over $600 million in funding, costing the average resident over $850. Compare this to London, a subscriber of the social investment system, where the homicide rate is just 1.54 per 100,000 residents (DC’s is 22.8) and social and community support services receive about 50% more funding than the police department. Many European countries also spend much more than America on support frameworks and consequently have much lower crime rates, allowing for a less hostile police force. The DMV has not been spared from the cruelty of police departments following the brutal crackdowns on the George Floyd protests. For example, in Washington, D.C., protesters were met with a very hostile police force that attacked a BBC cameraman and tear-gassed peaceful protesters so that President Trump could get a photo-op. The unnecessary level of force the police used goes to show that even in the DMV, where police are generally seen as peacekeepers instead of criminals, there is still a genuine need for police defunding and reform. The DMV should aim to spend at least as much on social support as on police by 2030 in order to shift towards the European model of social support.