Are you having the right conversation?
I want to talk about the racial through-line that has existed in American politics from the very beginning, from the 3/5th compromise in the constitution, to the Civil War, to “Birth of a Nation,” to Jim Crow, to segregation, to Nixon’s “Tough on Crime”, to Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” to H.W. Bush’s “Willie Horton” ad, to Clinton’s “Even Tougher On Crime,” to Donald Trump’s “So Much Tougher on Crime Again.”
I want to talk about why 13% of this country’s population live in overt fear of law enforcement. I want to talk about why 1 in 3 black men in this country will go to prison in their lifetime, while only 1 in 17 white men will. I want to talk about why the United States, which has only 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s prison population. And, of course, I want to talk about the multi-billion for-profit prison industry, and I want to talk about the literal quotas some states have signed to keep that industry profitable. I want to talk about ALEC.
Are you talking about what we can do?
I want to talk about treating policing like a profession. I want to talk about professional licensing for police, like doctors. I want to talk about each officer requiring individual liability insurance, like doctors.
I want to talk about instituting legislation at the national, state, and local level across the country that requires that for every dollar of investment made in “protecting” our society, at least another dollar (or even better, five) is invested in improving our society: in social programs, in mental health care, in unarmed first responders for non-violent crimes, in training programs.
I want to require an unarmed response to all non-violent crimes, which is 86% of all crime. I want to include a therapist and/or social worker in every police interaction, violent or not.
I want to talk about making it illegal to profit from prison labor. I want to talk about restoring the vote to every ex-convict. I want to talk about a constitutional amendment striking the clause “except as a punishment for crime” from the 13th Amendment.
I want to talk about completely new ways to do things. I want to talk about replacing our “penal” system with one truly focused on rehabilitation. I want to talk about empowering victims. I want to talk about “restorative justice.”
Invest in public safety.
All of these things improve outcomes and save money for cities and states. However, they are not free; they will require funding, and that funding should be considered part of the budget for what we invest in public safety. Doing these things will require shifting funds from the policing we have become familiar with. It does in fact result in defunding the police – not because police are bad, but because we can get better results with different investments.