By Rosetta Miller Perry
Tribune Publisher

A lot of discussion and rhetoric has resulted from the slogan “defund the police.” Like so many things in today’s social-media driven marketplace of ideas, folks distort or fail to get the true meaning of the phrase. What’s needed is reform, not elimination.  Only someone either hopelessly naive or doesn’t live in particular communities would claim there’s not a need for effective, efficient law enforcement. But what too many Black communities have gotten for too many decades are folks who shoot first and ask questions later, cops overly focused on expired license tags and problems with taillights rather than predators robbing and killing innocent citizens, and hostile, brutal types who beat and kill handcuffed citizens, then lie about it in official reports.

No, most people in Black communities don’t want a situation where there’s no police. What they do want are officers whose first response isn’t always to pull out their weapons and open fire. Ideally these officers would be people who are part of the community and are often seen in it, rather than those who only show up when there’s a problem. The George Floyd situation was only the tip of the iceberg regarding police misconduct and brutality. Even after it happened came the Atlanta situation where police shot and killed Rayshard Brooks running away. These incidents have happened so often and so long many people are frustrated and have lost faith in police departments. But that doesn’t mean they want a situation where there is NO police presence in their neighborhood.

Instead, what’s needed is a better utilization of the resources and funds that go to police departments. “Defund the police” should be changed to “closely monitor how money is spent on law enforcement.” The fact that there were police departments endorsing the use of chokeholds until recently is disgraceful. That should never have been a part of training. Likewise, reviews of the use of deadly force should be mandatory in every department. The standard should always be it’s used only to protect innocent lives or when officers are clearly in danger. Shooting unarmed or handcuffed suspects should never happen, nor should anyone fleeing be shot or killed. Police take oaths to preserve the law and protect the citizenry. They aren’t empowered to be de facto executioners, blowing away suspects who haven’t even been formally charged, nor had their day in court with adequate legal representation.

It’s long past time for intelligent discussion about and approaches towards not only police reform, but the entire concept of criminal justice in America. Yes, there are some truly bad people in our society, and those who murder and rape belong behind bars. But locking folks up for non-violent property crimes, possession of marijuana, or any of many other offenses when restitution and community service would be far better alternatives is something that should be implemented in cities across the nation. This society hasn’t yet learned that incarceration not only isn’t the answer to drug addiction, it also isn’t a solution to reducing crime.

Economic disparity and poverty is at the root of much crime, and this society won’t seriously address the issue until they do something about inequality. Likewise, so long as it’s easier to get a gun than it is to get a job, you will have people going around robbing and stealing. The “law & order” president always talks about locking people up, but his behavior in and out of office shows how little respect he truly has for the rule of law. He’s a disgrace, and a big part of the problem. He’s mouthing support for a half-hearted GOP police reform bill that won’t really get to the issue of misconduct and brutality because it doesn’t change the “qualified immunity” situation that lets so many bad cops get off with suspensions or less for illegal actions.

By the way, for those police unions who continue to support the activities of brutal members, suspects are just that, suspects. Until tried and convicted, they aren’t criminals. Shooting and killing a handcuffed or fleeing suspect is a crime. So is standing on someone’s neck till it crushes the life out of them, or placing them in a chokehold that results in their death. So long as police unions blindly stand behind their members no matter what they do, citizens won’t have any respect for them, or for the majority of cops who don’t commit these acts, but won’t inform on the ones who do.

So rather than focus on slogans, look at their deeper meaning. Black communities want and deserve quality policing. They don’t want more brutality and misconduct. But unless steps are taken to prevent more George Floyds and Rashard Brooks’, you’ll have many people who consider the police part of the problem regarding crime instead of part of the solution.