Undoubtedly, economic inequality is an enormous problem in a democratic society where citizens claim to value egalitarian norms. But this puzzling juxtaposition misses some fundamental points. The first is that racial identity is not merely a “celebration of difference,” nor is it a distraction from efforts to achieve economic inequality. Suggesting that attending to identity politics is what keeps us from fighting growing inequality is just barking up the wrong tree.
All of this is to say that we cannot solve the problem of police violence by avoiding the problem of poverty. Yet this is exactly what the “defund” solution threatens to do. In a remarkable twist, liberal militants have embraced austerity as a solution for local government. Slashing police budgets has been so widely accepted on the Left that criticism of it—on welfarist grounds, policy implementation, or simple political commonsense—has been labeled reactionary or racist. The reality, as I have tried to show, is that if defunding the police were to result in fewer beat cops, more poverty wages for officers in already poor districts, less police training and effectively no change in the presence of guns or the rate of poverty, then the defunding “solution”—for all its radical rhetoric—would likely result in more, not fewer, incidences of police lethality.
The key number, however, is this: Only 7 percent of Massachusetts’s residents are black, yet they constituted 35 percent of people killed by cops. African Americans therefore appear in Massachusetts police homicide stats at five times the rate, or with 400 percent greater frequency, than do they appear in the state’s total population count. Now we are beginning to see where the national average comes from.
The call to defund or abolish the police is a gift to the right. We need instead a series of radical reforms along with enhanced training, closer supervision, and democratic accountability. We should be looking to models that work rather than engaging in fantasies about civil patrols and communal policing, which will ultimately mean an expansion of private guard labor and private policing, unaccountable to public oversight.
By decriminalizing minor infractions and offering alternatives to police interactions, including utilizing technology to overcome unnecessary, unsafe, and costly traffic stops, the U.S. could improve safety outcomes. Instead of a call to #defund law enforcement, let’s question where funding comes from in order to restructure it and create a better public safety infrastructure.
As others here have said, the primary function of the police is to protect property rather than people. More specifically, it is to contain and repress the anxiety and anger caused by economic desperation. It is also to clear out low-income areas for gentrification, and broadly to police the borders between higher-income and poor parts of town. As the economy gets more unequal and a growing proportion of people fall into increasingly desperate economic straits, more and/or more aggressive policing is needed to accomplish this goal.
It’s 100% true that cops in our society are on what I would say is the wrong side of basically everything politically. But that’s actually true of a lot of occupations. Coal miner’s living depends on extracting carbon from the earth that poisons the entire world, but disproportionately so members of their own class, to enrich a small number of ruthless plunderers.