“Defund the police” is not a slogan, it is a political movement to make a systemic change in how policing is done in the United States and to move toward a more community-based approach to violence prevention and social justice.
Across the country, there will need to be sustained pressure on local governments to re-allocate resources to effect this change. We must demand this systemic change and keep demanding it. This will not be easy. Changing budgets is about as real as it gets in long-term political change.
United Church of Christ pastors and laypeople have joined in and supported the powerful #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations. Now we must step up to the call to “Defund the Police.” I think we have a theological and biblical resource in the UCC to help us organize to help make this extremely important systemic change. This resource is called “Just Peace.”
The United Church of Christ has been a “Just Peace Church” for more than 30 years, but even so, Just Peace is often misunderstood and/or underutilized in our justice and peace efforts. Just Peace is not exclusive to the United Church of Christ, as a World Council of Churches document shows, though I have found, through my own decades of work on the Just Peace paradigm, many in other communions and faiths do not focus on the paradigm shift toward systemic change.
Just Peace is a series of ten practices that address the systemic causes of injustice and violence. It is an interlocking approach to systemic change. All of the systems changes called for in the Just Peace paradigm are relevant to resourcing our activism on “Defund the Police,” but I will point out three in the following analysis.
Reform has not worked
“Defund the Police” is a crucial effort to make the kind of systemic change needed in policing in the United States. Reform has not worked, as it has only served to cover up what is so broken about policing.
Since the 1990’s and the passage of the controversial “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,” policing has increasingly become the main lens through which white America has responded to social ills. Mass incarceration, disproportionately of African Americans, has been the result. And, the rise in for-profit prisons, that is, crime as a profit center, has provided a further impetus to see crime as the main problem of our society. Police accountability for their use of force has disappeared, and the epidemic of the killing of unarmed African Americans with impunity has been the result.
Crime is not the main problem of our society.
The main problem of our society is vast and persistent economic inequality (Just Peace Practice #6) organized by race. The chart below shows this beyond a doubt.
This consistent economic disparity is institutionalized violence and that is the violence that a drive to “Defund the Police” seeks to address in my view.
In the “crime is the problem” therefore “police are the answer” approach, what has happened is our nation’s police forces have become the increasingly militarized enforcers of the systemic violence of economic disparity.
Investing in communities by directly addressing social and economic disparities through education, public health, housing, youth services (and more) by re-allocating funding from police departments is a concrete approach to changing the whole paradigm.
Many public schools have no school nurses, but they have police officers stationed with them. This is a policing response to the epidemic of gun violence in this country, an issue that is far better addressed by passing comprehensive gun control regulation. (Just Peace Practice #9)
All municipalities should have trained conflict interrupters and restorative justice teams on call (Just Peace practice #3) as well as rapid response social workers so that when there is a call about a homeless person, they are the ones who respond with housing support and other resources. Now, the homeless are put into the prison pipeline, as are the mentally ill (overlapping populations), swelling the for-profit prison population and effecting no positive change.
The root of much of the violence in our society is the persistent economic inequality organized by race.
Militarized police forces are designed to keep that violence in place.
That is what has to change.