Our top 5 commonly asked questions on policing:
- What does defunding the police mean?
- Do we really need to overhaul policing? How did we get here?
- What about black-on-black crime?
- Can I be pro-police and pro-reform?
- How can I help?
1. What does defunding the police mean?
Sunday to Saturday: This is similar to the Black Lives Matter issue where there are multiple meanings to a slogan. Yes, there are some people that mean they literally want to defund and abolish the police while there are other people that want to divert funds from police into training, mental health centers, demilitarization, etc. As a result, when someone uses the phrase “defund the police,” you should ask what they mean by that statement before engaging in a conversation.
When we talk about defunding the police (and we truly wish there was a better slogan), we are referring to the definition of moving funds from the police to training, community programs, etc. You may be asking, “Why not use reform the police as the slogan?” As a country, we have and continue to, reform the police each and every year. Unfortunately, the reforming policies throughout the decades have not made the necessary improvements needed to change the approach and culture of law enforcement.
“If you are unaware of the movement, phrasing can cause confusion. People draw unintended conclusions when advocates use the term “defund the police.” Yes (they mean) removing some of the funding from police departments, but moving some of that funding to other things – education, social work and so on that address other issues and needs that we shouldn’t be calling the police to address. (A) reapportioning of the funding to meet the needs of communities — that is generally what is being aimed at when defunding the police, not abolishing in any form.” Thabiti Anyabwile, “Pastors on Policing.” The Front Porch Podcast, 24 August 2020, https://thefrontporch.org/interview/pastors-on-policing/
“One basic theory of defund, and there are more than a few, says, wait a minute – why don’t we take some of that money back and give it to people qualified to deal with those issues (homelessness, mental health issues, etc.) without killing them in the process and at the same time why don’t we put money back into those systems that build long term basic public safety and build an economy for everyone?” Kamau Bell, “United Shades of America: Defund 101” CNN, uploaded by CNN, 1 May 2021. https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2021/05/01/united-shades-policing-the-police-101-animation.cnn
“Defunding the police doesn’t mean abolishing the police. It doesn’t even mean totally defunding them altogether. According to the ACLU defunding the police means to ‘cut the astronomical amount of money that our governments spend on law enforcement and give that money to more helpful services like job training, counseling, and violence prevention programs.’ As Chrissy T. Lopez wrote for the Winding Rut, “Defunding the police means shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep s safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need. It means investing more in mental health care and housing, and expanding the use of community mediation and violence interruption programs.” Taylor Schumann, When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021) 168.
2. Do we really need to overhaul policing? How did we get here?
Sunday to Saturday: Despite having 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the world’s incarcerated. Numerous studies have shown that regardless of the skin color of a police officer people of color are targeted and subjected to harsher police tactics. In addition, as mental health issues and opioid addiction has skyrocketed police have become the de facto agency to deal with these issues despite not being trained to do so. We are asking the police to perform a job they are not trained to do.
If that were not enough the federal government’s 1033 program, which started in 1997, has militarized America’s police force with billions of dollars of military equipment. Many police academies train cadets to see the community that they police as the “enemy” instead of citizens they should protect. There are 400 million guns in the United States giving the police a legitimate concern that people do have a gun.
So, yes, policing in America, how and what we want our police force to do, does need to be reformed.
Part of the gap between how white people and Black people view police is a lack of a shared history (see question #3 in the racism top 5) and an ignorance of the history of policing in the United States. The history of policing was built on the back of racism with many policing departments created during slavery to manage enslaved populations.
“We have had a long history of expanding police funding in the country under the guise of getting tough on crime and a lot of other political slogans and whatnot. We’ve got police stretched wider and wider over a bigger area of responsibility because while we have funded the police in increasing measure we have been cutting all the supports and services that communities need like mental health support, crisis intervention and conflict mediation. So, you’ve got police doing more and cutting the other range of supports that communities need to flourish and thrive.” Thabiti Anyabwile, “Pastors on Policing.” The Front Porch Podcast, 24 August 2020, https://thefrontporch.org/interview/pastors-on-policing/
“Community policing, body cameras, and increased money for training reinforce a false sense of police legitimacy and expand the reach of the police into communities and private lives. More money, more technology, and more power and influence will not reduce the burden or increase the justness of policing. Ending the War on Drugs, abolishing school police, ending broken-windows policing, developing robust mental health care, and creating low-income housing systems will do much more to reduce abusive policing.” Alex Vitale, The End of Policing ( London, England: Verso Books 2018) 206.
“If you dismiss black complaints of mistreatment by police as being completely rooted in our modern context then you’re missing the point completely. There has never been a period in our history where the law and order branch of the state has not operated against the freedoms, the liberties, the options, the choices that have been available for the black community. And to ignore that racial heritage, to ignore that historical context means that you can’t have an informed debate about the current state of blacks and police relationship today because this didn’t just appear out of nothing.” Kevin Gannon. 13th, Directed by Ava DuVernay, Kandoo Films, 2016. Netflix.
“I recognize the dangers that (police officers) face and the difficulties inherent in the vocation they choose, But a difficult job does not absolve one of criticism; it puts the criticism in a wider framework. That wider framework must also include if we are going to be complete, the history of the police’s interaction with people of color in this country. If the difficulty of the job provides context, so does the historic legal enforcement of racial discrimination and the terror visited on Black bodies. We must tell the whole story, as difficult as that telling might be.” Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020) 28.
“The reason many white people quickly cast aside conversations about unequal treatment of people of color as compared to white people in our culture is simple: white people, for the most part, do not have to intentionally consider their interaction with police.” David Docusen, Neighborliness: Finding the Beauty of God Across Dividing Lines, (Austin, TX: Fedd Books, 2020) 103.
4. What about black-on-black crime?
Sunday to Saturday: It depends on how this question is asked — and many times this question is not asked in good faith. If we want to have a conversation about black-on-black crime then we need to have a conversation about white-on-white crime, Latino-on-Latino crime, etc. Most crime is committed in the areas where people live. The answer cannot be divorced from the fact that we live in segregated communities because of racist policies and practices.
“It’s important to distinguish between the two forms of that question which are good faith and bad faith. The bad faith version of that question is, ‘Come on, you know Black people just deserve it.’ It is almost expressly bigoted and it should be treated as such. And the bad faith version so proliferates that people should be understandable why folks have such a strong and emotional reaction to the form of the question because it is meant to indicate Black people deserve what is happening to them. But there is another form of it, the good faith version of this which is, ‘Well, cops do go where crime goes, right?’ And if there is more crime in Black communities, and there are statistics that say that, shouldn’t we expect that that is a portion of it? You have to deal with that seriously – if you haven’t you have not been a careful methodologist and to be clear you aren’t a good police chief either because if I am going to where the crime is and that is driving all of my stats I don’t want to change what I am doing necessarily, but that is an empirical question – you can answer that by looking and seeing. And every piece of the best research from Andrew Gelman and Jeff Fagan to the work that we did to the Urban Institute has done to even the sort of theoretical models of Cody Ross and John Mumbalow and Dean Knotz everyone of them says crime is a big predictor of police deployment and police contact. So is poverty. Poverty and crime and big predictors, but they are not in any city we have looked sufficient to explain the racial disparities. Crime and poverty matter and there is still bias after that.” Philip Atiba Goff. “Race, policing, and the universal yearning for safety.” Vox Conversations, 15 September 2020, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/race-policing-and-the-universal-yearning-for-safety/id1081584611?i=1000491151514
“When you talk about black-on-black crime first let’s talk about white-on-white crime – people do crime where they live. We want to talk about the disproportionate rates of black-on-black crime, and they are disproportionate, then you also want to talk about the disproportionate, inadequate investment in African American communities. We want to talk about the factors that lead to that…just to pick one (policy) example, we have ghettos as an intentional policy decision to racialize space — to carve out space that is white community, that is black — and that is no longer legal, but that is still with us…and then there is redlining and then there is predatory lending practices. There all these predatory practices that lead to that kind of segregation still, that kind of entrenchment of poverty still.” Thabiti Anyabwile, “Addressing Black on Black Crime – Thabiti Anyabwile & Soong Chan Rah” YouTube, uploaded by VergeNetwork, 22 August 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Up3pctFIRcA
4. Can I be pro-police and pro-reform?
Sunday to Saturday: As Christians, we believe we need to engage in a distinctly Christian way with nuance and humility. At Saturday to Sunday, we are both pro-police and pro-reform.
“You can ‘back the blue’ and also back reforms that would curtail police union power to make officers more accountable. You can “back the blue” and also back changes to use-of-force protocols and training regimes designed to de-escalate violent confrontation. You can “back the blue” and also back amendments to existing law that would require prosecutors and judges to take more seriously police misconduct cases. You can “back the blue” and also demand more transparency when it comes to body cameras and police records. You can “back the blue” and still be horrified at what happened to Tamir Rice in Ohio and Walter Scott in South Carolina and Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri.” Andrew Cohen. “Yes, You Can Be Pro-Cop and Pro-Police Reform.” Brennan Center for Justice, 18 July 2016, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/yes-you-can-be-pro-cop-and-pro-police-reform
“This is where the church really needs to be distinctive. We really need to have our own clear witness…because too many faithful go all the way to the left or all the way to the right. I am not saying you have to be in the middle. I am saying you have to have a distinct witness that is not following behind some of these narratives that just don’t hold water. Christians have to be bold enough to have their own narrative to say culture in policing and how they view people needs to change but let’s not look at policing like there are no robbers. That is the nuance that we just don’t see.” Justin Giboney. “LGBTQ Rights and Police Reform.” Church Politics Podcast, 27 June 2020, https://open.spotify.com/episode/51gdJAmRxwTwO5kDW27Hgi
5. How can I help?
Sunday to Saturday: Educate yourself. Lament. Pray. This is what Sunday to Saturday is attempting to facilitate. Read our framework for a pathway to engagement and our guided learnings paths to learn more. Advocate for the police and for police reform in your local and state governments – especially in your local governments. Support the Institute for American Policing Reform. We also firmly believe that there needs to be changes in our gun laws. This protects not only cops but also the people they police.
“A good amount of reform that could make a real difference in policing doesn’t require federal legislation, it doesn’t even require state legislation, you can do them in city councils. You can pursue certain reforms and changes right there locally and that is where the relationships exist, where there is more immediate access to policymakers and whatnot. People should not skip the local work.” Thabiti Anyabwile, “Pastors on Policing.” The Front Porch Podcast, 24 August 2020, https://thefrontporch.org/interview/pastors-on-policing/
“There are many things that can be done to reduce the rates of police shootings, such as implicit bias training, de-escalation training, community policing, and more accountability for officers. However, these things can only help so much when police officers know that anyone they come into contact with might have a gun on them…In every encounter with a civilian, an officer may fear the presence of a gun. This fear changes their behavior, just like it would for any one of us–leading them to be more guarded, more fearful, and more defensive.” Taylor Schumann, When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021) 157.
Get involved with the 8 Can’t Wait campaign.
Advocate and vote for the following policies:
- Support universal background checks for the sale of guns
- Ban assault rifles
- Create national standards for training and de-escalation
- Legislate forced time off
- Reform qualified immunity
- Have funds diverted to a mental health care unit so officers do not have to respond to calls they are not trained for
- Ban choke holds
- Go back to community policing where cops walk the neighborhoods and interact with the community
- Demilitarize the police
- Restructure of academy training to not emphasize combat
- Create a national database to track bad cops so they do skip from town to town
More curated resources on policing:
BOOK: The Rise of the Warrior Cop
From Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton to Donald Trump every sitting president for the last 50 years, Republican or Democrat, has militarized America’s police force. In Rise of the Warrior Cop author Radley Balko asks, “How did we evolve from a country whose founding statesmen were adamant about the dangers of armed, standing government forces—a…Keep reading
MOVIE: Peace Officer
What if you witnessed the SWAT team that you established as sheriff kill your son-in-law? Peace Officer follows former Utah sheriff William “Dub” Lawrence using his 45-years as a police officer to privately investigate the killing of his son-in-law, Brian Wood. Wood was killed in 2008 after a muddled standoff with police.Keep reading
BOOK: The Black and the Blue
For those wondering if the issue with policing is a couple of bad officers or if it is the system, 28-year law enforcement veteran Matthew Horace unequivocally paints a picture of a broken system in his memoir The Black and the Blue. Before critiquing the system, Horace unequivocally says he is a cop while also…Keep reading