By far the strangest defense of police violence against Black Americans is the argument that Black on Black violence is a bigger problem.
That is not a defense of police. It is an indictment.
The entire justification for funding police is to reduce crime, particularly violent crime. The endemic crime and Black on Black violence in many black communities shows that police have failed repeatedly at that mission in those communities.
In fact, that may explain calls for defunding police as much as the police violence. If I’m living in a community where the police don’t seem to be doing much to stem the tide of crime and violence but are harassing and even killing my friends and neighbors, I might think I’m better off without them.
That’s especially true if defenders of police violence are going to argue that Black violence is the responsibility of Black people and not the police, as former Mayor Rudy Guilliani seemed to suggest when he told a Black scholar on the subject: “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other.”
The implication is clear. If Black people do not want to be shot by police, they need to get the violence in their communities under control. But if it is their responsibility to control the violence, what purpose do the police serve?
Making all Black people responsible for the violence of a few Black people simply because they share the same skin color is inherently racist in the first place. All Black people cannot control, nor do they have any means to control, the behavior of other people who just happen to be Black. The police, however, are specifically equipped and charged with controlling the bad behavior of anyone regardless of race.
Conservatives will no doubt argue that police can only do so much. Violence and crime prevention begin in the home with parents and the community raising young people to be good, productive citizens. That at least, they will argue, is the responsibility of the Black community not police.
Yet here too, law enforcement is arguably part of the problem not the solution. How can the Black parents and the Black community raise children well when parents and communities are being broken up by mass incarceration, often the result of discriminatory policing? Parents and community members in Black communities are arrested and jailed in disproportionate numbers and given longer sentences than Whites.
As even conservative Republican Rand Paul observed in a debate, “Drug use is about equal between white and black, but our prisons — three out of four people in prison are black or brown.”
The negative impact of this to the economic and social health of black communities and levels of achievement for the children of those communities has been well documented in multiple studies.
Given this circumstance, it makes perfect sense that activists who argue for defunding the police want to take the money saved from defunding police and put it into social programs that would help communities better raise young people to be productive citizens, just as conservatives suggest. If police aren’t going to be part of the solution and are going to put all the responsibility on Black communities for reducing crime, it makes sense to put more of the resources for addressing the problem in the hands of Black communities.
Ultimately, the police are a taxpayer funded institution and it is therefore not unreasonable for taxpayers to ask what value is being realized from that institution and whether more value might be derived from shifting money to different institutions that deal with similar problems. That’s especially true when questions about the outcomes police are achieving are met with a how-dare-you-question-us attitude from individuals who are after all employees of the taxpayer.
Any of us who have had a job overseen by a boss who didn’t understand the difficulties of what we do, can understand the concerns the police union might have about the process by which officers are held accountable. But few would argue for the complete lack of accountability to their bosses that police and their unions seem to be advocating. The idea that police can kill over 1000 people a year and that taxpayers shouldn’t be allowed to ask any questions about that is absurd. Yet it does appear to be a prevalent attitude among police, which is ironic coming from a group of people whose job is to hold people accountable.
So while it’s disturbing to see relations between Black communities and the police devolve into constant street clashes, it’s important to remember that this is the result of decades of discriminatory policing that has undermined those communities and in some cases, like Ferguson, exploited them.
It’s also important to remember that police and their unions are resisting any acknowledgement of the problem and any discussion of reform. Polls show that large segments of white police deny there’s any problem with discriminatory policing at all even while the rest of the country and black officers see the problem quite clearly.
If police, their defenders and their unions want to end the protests and the calls for police defunding, they need to start constructive dialogs about how they can be a part of solving the problems of minority communities instead of contributing to them. As with all problems, that starts with admitting that the problem exists.