As hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest the rampant racism displayed by the people in power in this country and the inevitable police brutality that results from such a system, police officers from coast to coast responded by gassing, punching, clubbing, kicking, stomping, shoving, shooting, flashbanging, car-ramming, verbally terrorizing, and mass-arresting those protestors.
As major U.S. cities quite literally burn, the tired old argument of good cops vs. bad cops is rekindled, but now a new line has been drawn – how about we defund the cops and put the power back into our communities?
No, this does not mean there should be no police. It means reallocating funds in a way that the police force that remains is only capable of doing all it should ever be tasked with doing – protecting and serving its local community in a limited and well-defined role.
As is to be expected, this topic has become very divisive and the argument can easily be muddied with misinformation. While Americans turn their attention to this ambitious shift in policy, the U.S. Department of Justice just quietly handed an incredible amount of virtually unchecked power to another fixture in law enforcement that should have been defunded long ago – the DEA.
HYPOCRITES, ALL OF THEM
In a memo dated May 31st of this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration requested and was subsequently granted the power to perform “other law enforcement duties” which are defined in the memo only as whatever Attorney General William Barr may “deem appropriate”.
This order was given in direct response to the nationwide protests that arose in the wake of the wrongful death of George Floyd, and so many others, at the hands of overaggressive police. It is good for 14 days, through mid-June, and allows the atrophied DEA new powers to “conduct surveillance and protect against threats to public safety,” to share “intelligence” with federal and local agencies and authorities, as well as to “intervene as federal law enforcement officers … in the protests” and “engage in investigative and enforcement activity including, but not limited to, conducting interviews, conducting searches and making arrests.”
That should frighten and infuriate every American, regardless of how they feel about these protests, or rioting, or looting (which are, of course, three different things).
So many of the people complaining about the way these protestors are making themselves heard and cheering on armor-clad cops are the same people who were fired up when Snowden revealed that our government is always watching. Well, guess what? They are watching even closer now.
It is especially concerning considering the Attorney General’s fixation on deploying “even greater law enforcement resources” in his quest to take down “AntiFa” – a leaderless, unorganized, anti-fascism frame of mind more than anything. William Barr is smart enough to know, however, that sometimes ideas are much more dangerous than specific people.
We already have local and federal law enforcement (FBI) tasked with this. To us, it smells like the Feds are trying to cook up new ways to defame the anti-police protests and the Black Lives Matter movement by presenting a bunch of new drug busts or questionable connections that they’ll sloppily sell as some sort of invalidation of these mass protests now entering their second week.
This is the very definition of over-policing and so we should not be shocked that it is occurring during protests fueled by people of color. It is a vicious cycle that needs to stop. That is what the protests are about and what is at the very root of the Defund the Police demand.
It is about dismantling the Good Ol’ Boys club that this memo and power shift lays bare. This request was made to the Department of Justice by the “acting” head of the DEA, a man named Tim Shea who was placed in that role just about a month ago. The Trump administration likes to name “acting” department or agency heads so that they do not have to be subjected to approval from the Senate, allowing him to insert whoever he wants wherever he wants. Shea just so happened to work at the Department of Justice and is a close ally of William Barr.
William Barr, as you may know, is now serving his second stint at the top cop of the land. He was the Attorney General back in 1992 under the elder President Bush when his office was chastised for using the DEA for the bulk collection of telephone data to be used against American citizens. This dude has been cooking the books since before there was an internet.
Finding themselves lost and left behind in a world of legal weed, the DEA now has a new leader, new support from the very top, and a new, dark purpose again. Let’s see if they extend this undue power past midmonth.
DEFUND THE POLICE – WHAT IT MEANS
The images flashing across the screens of our TVs and phones each day of officers decked out head to toe in Call of Duty style gear comes in stark contrast to the images we saw just a few short weeks ago of our own emergency room nurses wearing trash bags as personal protective equipment in a pandemic.
There are many reasons and events that led to the ramping up of local law enforcement budgets, allowing them to outfit every podunk police department with up-armored troop carriers and special ops gear for their high school grad deputies to don anytime the job might get a little dangerous. But there are even more reasons to unwind that escalation and get our cops looking and acting more like something out of Leave it to Beaver instead of Judge Dredd.
There are no such statistics to back this up but anyone with any street smarts can tell you that cops these days create more crimes than they prevent.
Imagine a few scenarios handled by a community that has defunded its police department, while comparing them to how it would be handled today in your city.
You are driving at night and you have a headlight out but do not realize it. Instead of being pulled over by a cop who is going to ask for all sorts of bullshit, searching for any other possible “crime” as they do, imagine being flagged down by a city employee who replaces the bulb or fuse for you, allowing you to get home safely, instead of to court with a fixit ticket (if you got off easy). That service can easily be afforded with a sliver of your local police budget.
Unhomed people could be approached by trained city employees who can provide on-the-spot counseling and offer shelter, food, and health care through well-funded programs created with a fraction of the money shaved off police departments.
The police that remain should live in the community they serve. They should be out of their cars and back on the streets, working a beat and reestablishing themselves as members of that community, not some force looking down on it. Funds spent on head-splitting rubber bullets could easily be re-allocated to re-train those worthy remaining officers in effective de-escalation tactics with an emphasis on force only as a last resort.
This might sound like a pipe dream, but it has been done before and it is already beginning to happen again.
Camden, New Jersey was once considered among the deadliest cities in the country, with homicides rising year after year. In 2013, the city completely defunded its entire police force. It was replaced with a more streamlined county-level police department that was actually able to hire more officers than before but with a strict new mandate of de-escalation in all situations.
The result is not perfect, but Camden suffered 67 homicides in 2012 and that number has steadily dropped, down to 25 in 2019. The recent protests in Camden have been peaceful, with the police chief and other officers joining the marches against brutality and systemic racism.
Both law enforcement officials and community leaders believe that this can be a model for nationwide reform.
This past week, the city council in Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered by the police voted with a veto-proof majority to implement similar changes to their city. Details have yet to emerge but those elected officials have decided that the current police department is incapable of reform, so they plan to start from scratch after the city’s mayor was booed out of a recent rally for voicing his now toothless concerns about defunding the police.
New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio has expressed interest in restructuring the budgets of his own city’s departments. The Big Apple alone has a $6 BILLION annual police budget. Time to make some apple pie.
The pushback against these decisions and this movement is just as loud, bellowing from the top down with the president politicizing the notion and insisting (via Tweet) on “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE”, and telling state governors that they need to use their police forces to “dominate” their streets.
National police unions and organizations went all-in supporting Donald Trump in 2016. You may remember the chilling laughter in the room when Trump told a gathering of cops in 2017 not to be “so gentle” with suspects and not to protect their heads when slamming them into police cars. So, it should come as no surprise that they are backing him again for re-election in 2020.
As this presidential campaign begins to heat up and protests continue to rage, you can be certain that the issue of defunding the police will be twisted, spun, and spit out sideways by most of the candidates and pundits discussing it.
Nobody that we know of is saying there ought to be no cops, but can anyone really say that the cops we have now are making America great?
Defund the police.
Collectively, we can do better.
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