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“Defund the Police” vs. “Re-Allocate”

This is a post that I drafted nearly a week ago, before the public disclosure of the death of Daniel Prude, literally at the hands of Rochester police officers.  His death was officially ruled a homicide by the Medical Examiner.  I’ve added a postscript with current thoughts.

Emotions run high and hot when police reform is on the table. 

Some passionately urge abolishing the police altogether, starting fresh with a community-based mindset.  They believe the institution is too drenched in racist history and practice, and will never have the will to reform itself, no less be reformed.

Others argue with equal passion that the police have become victims, pelted with rocks, bottles, bricks while attempting to protect people and property.  They focus on “Blue Lives Matter,” and contend that without the police the damage done by rampaging protestors would be even more severe.  We need more law and order, not less!!

Can these two polarized sides ever come to agreement on anything?

I’ll describe an effort that is focused on forging a way forward.  I wouldn’t call it a middle path, but an intentional attempt to reimagine and redesign a system of “serve and protect” operating in a way that produces and reinforces safety and respect in a community.  Does that sound idealistic, too fluffy, too “soft on crime?”  Hang on.

United Christian Leadership Ministry (UCLM) has cultivated a respectful relationship with law enforcement agencies in the Monroe County area.  When Rev. Lewis Stewart calls, the Sheriff and Police Chiefs respond, likely with some combination of interest and trepidation:  “What does he want now?”  UCLM has hosted four major Police/Community Summits in the past several years.  These are well-attended, well-facilitated forums for honest exchange of experiences, exasperations and expectations.

UCLM is now engaging a group of 30 people to formulate specific proposals for police reform.  Here is a sampling of the proposals these participants will develop:

Creation of a Citizens’ Public Safety Interview Panel

This Panel would interview applicants to law enforcement agencies before they are accepted to the Police Academy.  The community members would assess the fitness of the candidate to interact with the community in a positive way, to appreciate cultural nuances and values.  Could they picture this person standing on a neighborhood corner chatting with a group of teenagers or shop owners? They would also probe for latent racial bias, or underlying emotional instability.  And finally they would issue a report to the agency, noting the candidate as Highly Recommended, Recommended, or Not Recommended.

Reallocate funding from traditional policing to professional intervention teams

This proposal will delineate many current police functions that can be better served by professionals with specialized skills.  These professionals would be more adept at handling domestic disputes, neighbor disputes, mental health issues, addiction issues, and the kinds of dog-and-cat 911 calls that do not need an armed response.  Think about parades and festivals:  do we really need a cadre of men and women in dark blues, with a belt full of instruments that can harm and kill people, standing in front of police cruisers with the flashing red and blues associated with a crime scene?  What if, instead, there were a contingent of professionals trained in crowd control, traffic control, dressed in simple tan uniforms, standing in front of vehicles topped by yellow flashers?  In all of these situations, there would be coordinated communication with law enforcement if there is perceived danger.  This proposal is an especially hopeful example of reallocation of resources.

Introduction of a Racial Justice Education/Training Curriculum in the Police Academy

This proposal gets at the heart of the current culture in policing.  The curriculum would lay bare the origins of policing.  For your own knowledge:

Organized policing was initiated in the South where police had a focused purpose:  chase down runaway slaves, organize terrorist events meant to intimidate Black people, and use excessive force to gain compliance.  Post-slavery, after the failure of Reconstruction and the initiation of the Jim Crow left former slaves in slave-like conditions, this policing rationale continued.  The police protected white people, white property and white supremacy.  While policing in the North didn’t have this emphasis at first, as Black people fled the Jim Crow South, Northern and Western law enforcement agencies actually recruited experienced Southern police to come and “deal with” their growing Black populations.  And as Italians and Irish immigrants managed to emerge from poverty, blending eventually as white people, crime decreased in those neighborhoods, leaving the police to focus attention on the impoverished Black communities. (Remember that crime correlates with poverty; it does not correlate with race)

That is the ugly historical reality.  This Curriculum would lay bare that history, and trace that influence to the present, using facts and in-person stories to illustrate the vestiges of this racist foundation, the ways in which policing still tends to protect white people, white property and white supremacy.

These proposals will be submitted to the City/County organization (Commission on Racial and Structural Equity) preparing a response to Governor Cuomo’s charge to craft a plan for police reform.  The group includes both community activists and law enforcement officials who are committed to working through the inevitable disagreements these proposals will surface.

(End of original post)

Postscript:  I’m sickened by the tragic death of Daniel Prude, ruled a homicide shortly after it occurred.  I’m even more sickened by the intentional cover-up by Chief LaRon Singletary, with, at the very least, complicity by Mayor Lovely Warren, and Union head Mike Mazzeo’s usual dancing.  I’ve sat in numerous meetings with Chief Singletary, and had one-on-one conversations with him.  My assessment had been:  a good man who had inherited a mess.  But since this murder, he has failed in numerous ways to be a true public servant.  He has instead orchestrated a CYA charade.  I’ve heard him claim in public several times since the murder:

  • “We have the best training in the nation.”
  • “Fortunately things like that (George Floyd) don’t happen in Rochester.”
  • “My hands are tied.”  (Regarding police misconduct, laying all blame on the Union contract and certain laws)

In addition, he allowed the officers who killed Prude to continue on active duty, as if nothing had happened.  He also is responsible for an inexcusably aggressive treatment of peaceful protesters.

When I think now of an attempt to institute the reforms I described above, I find more empathy with those who chant “Abolish the police.”  And unless as-yet unknown factors emerge, I believe Chief Singletary needs to resign for true reform to stand any chance of realization.

Resources:

“Hidden in Plain Sight:  Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement;   Summary:  The government’s response to known connections of law enforcement officers to violent racist and militant groups has been strikingly insufficient”  Brennan Center for Justice

“What Would Efforts to Defund or Disband Police Departments Really Look Like?” NYT

“We train police to be warriors – and then send them out to be social workers – the fatal mismatch at the heart of American policing”  Vox

“Police reform, defunding, and abolition explained – even with deep disagreements, a promising dialogue is emerging around defunding police service not focused on fighting crime”  Vox

“After Protests, Politicians Reconsider Police Budgets and Discipline”  NYT

All prior articles had been listed prior to recent events.  This article is current:

“Experts say Rochester police failed to use tactics designed to help those in crisis as union defends officers involved in death of Black man”  Washington Post

14 thoughts on ““Defund the Police” vs. “Re-Allocate””

  1. Frank, I am very interested in the ongoing work for change through dialogue with RPD, City Council and other stakeholders. Do you think ongoing nightly protests are helping to motivate real solutions? While I support the protests, I also see wisdom in Bill Johnson’s comment to meet “at 1 pm around the table.”

    When it makes sense, I would appreciate an update on any such discussions.

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    1. Bob, I can only give my semi-informed, inconclusive thinking: IMHO, I believe the organizers intend to keep the protests going no matter what you or I think. Trying to hinder that or publicly criticize that is divisive. There is a young, zealous energy leading those protests – people who do not want to grow up in the same rigged system the elders have endured. They are being peaceful, almost to a person. Let them holler as much as they want, as long as they want. I believe continued protests will keep the pressure on the power people as they come to the table. I think.

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      1. Good points Frank. I do hope constructive negotiations produce real change, and the protests certainly shine the light.

        I was very concerned a week ago when it appeared that a few among the protesters threw fireworks/bottles at police. When I saw RPD fire non lethal objects from rifles and advance shoulder-to-shoulder on protesters on Exchange St, I had flashbacks to Kent State, where one of my HS classmates was killed. Every night feels to me like it has that potential, since it only takes one or two to convert peaceful energetic protests into something else.

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  2. could you tell me what the plan is for persons to be along side protesters as an assist? I have to be honest that I am a little reluctant but have been struggling with need to step up as you said Frank and my own cowardice. Also I wonder about some the bigger Churches in the community (Aenon; Antioch, Mt Vernon) and what role are they playing working with protesters.

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    1. Gloria, the Elders and Allies is being organized by Shirley Thompson, Kit Miller (Gandhi Instit.) and Mary Lupien (City Council) – you can check her FB page for details. About the churches, not sure. The one pastor who I know is involved in the Elders/Allies is Rev. Marlowe Washington.

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    1. I’m hearing the same. And neither has shown any helpful leadership since. The mayor’s call for a curfew seems an absolutely futile step. I’m also concerned that the local protest leaders, whom I respect, have lost control of the crowd. Last night’s violence was definitely initiated by the protesters. I watched the first commercial grade fireworks fly over to the police, followed by probably 15 more. Ten minutes of that, plus rocks and bottles before the police responded with tear gas and pepper balls. As opposed to the other nights, this time the protesters clearly were the aggressors. Doesn’t help the narrative that gets reported.

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  3. Frank … AMEN to everything you said! … especially the postscript. You deserve a lot of credit for.posing this so clearly and forcefully. You know I’m with you 100%++!

    Bill Wynne

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