One of the misguided goals of the recent protests ignited by the murder of George Floyd are the calls not just for “defunding” police departments, but to abolish them entirely. Now it’s often not clear what “defunding” means, but sometimes protestors conceive of it as diverting money from the police force to social programs.
In the disturbing video below, Jacob Frey, the impossibly young mayor of Minneapolis (he’s 38), is asked by a protest leader if he’ll commit to defunding/dismantling the city’s police department. When he says he can’t commit to that, he was booed and driven away (this despite his promises to make “deep structural reforms” in the police department and admission that the city’s police culture was imbued with systemic racism). This is what happens when you try to compromise with wokeness. There is no compromise, and perhaps a mayor can’t commit to stuff like that with a simple “yes” or “no” answer, as they demanded.
Minneapolis mayor's attempt to show solidarity with protesters takes an unexpected turn here. pic.twitter.com/DLchX1e8si
— Liam Donovan (@LPDonovan) June 7, 2020
And indeed, Minneapolis is a city where the city council, weighing in with a veto-proof majority, has sworn to eliminate the police department entirely, replacing it with, well, it’s not clear. Here’s the NYT article on the issue:
The call here is not for reform, but for abolition:
Nine members of the Minneapolis City Council — a veto-proof majority — pledged on Sunday to dismantle the Police Department, promising to create a new system of public safety in a city where law enforcement has long been accused of racism.
Saying that the city’s policing system could not be reformed, the council members stood before hundreds of people gathered late in the day on a grassy hill and promised to begin the process of taking apart the Police Department as it now exists.
For activists who have been pushing for years for drastic changes to policing, the move represented a turning point that they hope will lead to a transformation of public safety in the city.
“It shouldn’t have taken so much death to get us here,” Kandace Montgomery, the director of Black Visions Collective, said from the stage at the rally. “We’re safer without armed, unaccountable patrols supported by the state hunting black people.”
The pledge in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died 13 days ago after being pinned to the ground by a white police officer’s knee, reflected calls across America to rethink what policing looks like. Protesters have taken to the streets with demands to shrink or abolish police departments, and “defund the police” has become a frequent rallying cry.
Officials in other cities, including New York, have begun to talk of diverting some money and responsibilities from police forces to social services agencies, but no other major city has gone as far in reaction to the protests as the Minneapolis officials have promised to do.
Council members said in interviews on Sunday that they did not yet have specific plans to announce for what a new public safety system for the city would look like. They promised to develop plans by working with the community, and said they would draw on past studies, consent decrees and reforms to policing across the nation and the world.
It seems to me that before you abolish the police department, you have to have a plan for what will replace it. The fact that these people don’t have a plan suggests that theirs is a knee-jerk reaction, not a thoughtful response (there have been thoughtful responses by others, though; see below). It’s telling that although the council members don’t have a replacement plan, the New York Times tried to put words into their mouths—and into the mouths of others. Here’s one example where editorializing creeps into the Times’s news coverage:
Protesters’ cries to defund or abolish the police are often not meant literally. Rather, they are demands to rethink a law enforcement system from the ground up and to grapple with deeply ingrained issues, including employing officers who do not live in the city they police — as is done in Minneapolis — and sending armed officers to respond to situations that turn out not to be crimes, as when a mentally ill person is in distress.
Oh really? How does the New York Times know what the protestors mean? How do they know that the city council doesn’t want to abolish the Minneapolis police department? Answer: they don’t; the paper is trying to alter what the protestors are saying to make it more palatable to the paper’s liberal audience.
As for defunding, well, there are some reforms suggested by more thoughtful people in the body of the piece, suggestions like asking whether a 911 caller needs medical, mental-health, fire, or police assistance before dispatching help (don’t they do that already?), self-policing of communities, and so on (there really aren’t many alternatives mentioned). What seems more sensible is a bottom-up and top-down reform of problematic police departments.
I have no idea whether there’s a lot of fat in police budgets, but unless you have an effective alternative to the current “style” (and I don’t mean brutal or racist style) of policing, it would be unwise to willy-nilly cut millions of dollars from police budgets without some heavy scrutiny.
The idea to completely replace conventional police with community policing or some unspecified alternative seems to me very unwise. I remember the Montreal Police Strike on October 7, 1969 (also known as the “Murray-Hill riot“), when the police, fed up with low pay and poor working conditions, went on strike for just one day. With no police on call, things went to hell. Wikipedia reports:
As the police were on strike, a crowd of disgruntled taxi drivers belonging to the Mouvement de Libération du Taxi appeared outside of the City Hall at about 6 p.m. supporting the police strike, carrying banners denouncing the Mayor, Jean Drapeau, as being corrupt. After the rally, the taxi drivers formed a convoy that were escorted by the Popeyes Motorcycle Club, the most violent of all Montreal’s many outlaw biker clubs. Joining the convoy were journalists and members of the FLQ carrying banners demanding independence for Quebec. On the street, the convoy encountered a Murray-Hill limousine that was forced to stop. The passengers and driver were allowed to leave, and then the car was smashed to pieces by the taxi drivers and the Popeyes.
The taxi drivers, Popeyes and FLQ congregated around the Murray-Hill garage in Griffintown, protesting against Murray-Hill’s monopoly at the Dorval International Airport. Attempts by the Sûreté du Québec to stop the procession towards the garage were stopped by striking Montreal policemen. Many of the taxi drivers were armed with Molotov cocktails as they were intent upon burning down the Murray-Hill company’s garage. At the Murray-Hill headquarters, various young people began to throw rocks and bricks through the windows, followed by Molotov cocktails. A sniper opened fire, leading one demonstrator to return fire. The fire came from the Murray-Hill security guards armed with 12-gauge shotguns, whose blasts left several people seriously injured. One young man managed to take over a Murray-Hill cab and drove it into a row of five limousines and three buses. The eight officers from the Sûreté du Québec attempting ineffectually to stop the riot were surrounded by the taxi drivers and as a journalist from La Presse wrote: “were shouted down, roughed up, had their caps thrown into the air, and their badges ripped off”. During the melée, Sûreté corporal Robert Dumas was killed by shots fired from the roof by security guards and the owner’s son Buses were overturned and burned. As the situation at the Murray-Hill garage escalated, the bulk of the Sûreté du Québec officers in the city were ordered to go there, leaving the rest of the city exposed.
Crowds began to smash windows and loot stores. In particular, the crowds targeted a high-end restaurant owned by Drapeau, La Vaisseau d’Or, which was thoroughly trashed and looted. Also targeted were pick-up points owned by the Murray-Hill company, McGill university and the Montreal offices of IBM. Gangs of masked men armed with guns began to systematically rob the banks, through most bankers had made certain the day before that there was only a minimal amount of cash on-hand, limiting their losses. One branch of the Banque d’Épargne that failed do so lost some $28,845 dollars that day as three masked men smashed their way in.
The Montreal Gazette reported on 8 October 1969:
“Fires, explosions, assaults and a full-pitched gun-battle kept Montrealers huddled indoors as the reign of terror brought the city to the edge of chaos and resulted in the call for the Army help… Hundreds of looters swept through downtown Montreal last night as the city suffered one of the worst outbreaks of lawlessness in its history. Hotels, banks, stores and restaurants around the Ste-Catherine-Peel Street axis had their windows smashed by rock-tossing youths. Thousands of spectators looked on as looters casually picked goods out of store-front windows.”
Many of the young French-Canadians who looted the stores claimed to be striking against the economic domination of Montreal’s Anglo minority, leading them to chant separatist slogans. Despite this claim, the looters did not distinguish between stores owned by French-Canadians and English-Canadians. By the end of the day, over half a million dollars worth of goods had been looted from various stores while a hundred people were arrested.
There are some contested data showing that when New York Police decided to stop enforcing less serious crimes in 2014 and 2015, the crime rate actually dropped. But the causation is here is unclear. Nevertheless, that is not what these protestors are talking about.
If you’re going to deep-six police departments, you’ll have to replace them with something that has enough deterrent power to prevent stuff like this from happening. I hope people are thinking about that.