(Un)F*ck the Police: What Real Reform Might Look Like
This week, democracy-ish asks: What might a post-police world look like? How can we ensure public safety while radically reimagining the status quo?
In the wake of global protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd, we’re hearing calls for systemic change in law enforcement that range from targeted reforms to defunding to abolition.
What does it really mean to “defund” the police, and what might our lives look like without their ubiquitous presence?
Why the f*&# was Nancy Pelosi kneeling on the Capitol floor wearing the attire of Ghanaian royalty?
Toure and Danielle are mixing it up with an episode dedicated to discussing the way forward for American policing.
As we enter the third week of protests that stretch from America’s biggest cities to small towns in the heartland and capitals overseas, the calls for change are loud –– but not entirely clear.
“Are we reforming? Or are we completely starting over?” Toure asks.
We covered 8Can’tWait on the show last week. That’s one set of suggestions that can go a long way toward reducing police violence. But we’ve also seen the Minneapolis City Council completely disband its police department.
And we’re hearing nationwide calls to “defund” the police. What does that really mean? How can we prevent chaos in the streets? How can we prevent a Purge-style dystopia from happening IRL if the police aren’t there to save us??
Well, if you’re reading this while Black or Brown, you already see the flaw in this question. You’re living in a dystopia already.
So we want to imagine something new. Toure and Danielle have some ideas.
Episode Highlights –– Imagine a Post-Police World
We can’t fix ‘broken windows’ with guns
When we ask whether –– or at least how much –– we need the police, race has to be part of the conversation.
“Dude, do you need to be holding a gun in order to pull somebody over who has a broken taillight or rolled through a stop sign?” Danielle asks.
“The response is always, what if the other person has a gun? Police enter into a dangerous job. They don't know who's doing what, when. But the assumption is that Black people are always up to no good.”
That’s the “broken windows” philosophy at work, says Toure: “Any small deviations ... could lead to catching a mass murderer. Hop over a turnstile? Stop a major crime.”
This leads to the idea that every citizen is potentially a horrific criminal, which is just not true. And talk of abolition leads to pearl-clutching notions that without the police, we’ll be living through The Purge.
Cue the creepy emergency broadcast.
Reimagining the police state
“I think that language is really important,” Danielle says. “Police don't need to be reformed. We need a system that is completely and totally reimagined from its current state.”
She agrees with recent, widespread calls to defund the police, pointing out that state, local and federal governments have been defunding public education and health care for ages. And yet, the NYPD budget is $6 billion.
When she saw that figure, “I almost threw up in my mouth,” Danielle says. “Why is the NYPD budget as big as a small nation’s? I don't know why they need the latest and greatest in toy soldier gear.”
Meanwhile, the majority of kids in New York City don’t have laptops, which put a wrench into plans for distance learning during the pandemic.
“It's important to start thinking about what we actually need the police for,” Toure adds. “They have an expanded role because of ballooned budgets … But we're not using police in ways that serve our communities best.”
Don’t just ban chokeholds — take their guns away
In the wake of recent protests, police departments around the U.S. (and in France, bien sur) are banning chokeholds and other forms of neck restraints.
That’s an important move, but in cases where Black people are killed by the police, they’re “shot to death, not choked,” says Danielle. “So I think it's important to take away their guns.”
Toure agrees: “We need to radically shrink the number of police, which means radically shrinking the number of people with guns.”
We’ll also need to radically change what we expect cops to do –– and not do. Toure thinks that most cops are “crime generalists” who are entrusted to handle all kinds of situations but deal with many of them badly.
He makes an analogy: If you need specialized healthcare, you don’t go to a general practitioner. You see a specialist.
Most police are ill-equipped to deal with potentially volatile, sensitive situations like a domestic conflict or the aftermath of a rape.
“We don't need to add guns to these situations,” Toure adds. In the relatively rare occasions when there's an active shooter, for example, we do need law enforcement –– preferably an elite, specialized team trained to handle emergency situations.
Racism isn’t just systemic, it’s criminogenic
Arguably, cops actually create much of the violence Black folks experience in their lives, from murder to the assault and policies like “stop and frisk.”
But the police themselves are criminogenic, says Toure, explaining that when people are arrested for non-violent crimes, they’re thrust into a system that makes it difficult — or even impossible — for them to get jobs. That leads to over-policed communities filled with young men who have criminal records and look for underground ways of making money.
That’s why we need not only a “radical reformation of the police, but a change on the other side” he adds. “I want to see it becoming much easier for people who have committed non-violent felonies to return to the above-ground job market.”
Also on his wishlist: end the war on drugs, starting with federal legalization of marijuana. That’s the only way to crush the underground drug market, eliminating a major source of crime and violence, Toure says.
“We cannot police our way out of it. We've tried for 60 years. It doesn't work.”
That’s also important because prison is criminogenic, too. “If we reduce the things that funnel people into crime, we’ll have less crime,” he adds. “And less need for police.”
‘From slavery to the prison industrial complex’
Danielle thinks the reason why calls to defund the police are being painted as so radical is because “it's a money-making entity for a particular group of people who are in power.”
We can only do things like decriminalizing drugs and defunding police if the end game is having fewer people in prison, she adds. “But that has never been the end game. It's like we moved from slavery to the prison industrial complex, because there had to be a way to funnel these Black people, these unwanteds, into a system in which you can control them.”
She wonders whether efforts toward reform will be successful, considering the multi-billion-dollar prison industry.
“The more you incarcerate, the more money you're gonna make,” Danielle adds.
Police overtime: ‘an insane system’
Speaking of shady ways of making money: There are two major ways that cops are incentivized to make arrests and issue citations.
Toure recently spoke with a police officer who explained that “quotas” are real, but not in the way you might think. They’re not told to, for example, make 20 arrests per month. “The Union will say no, you can't do that.”
However, if a few officers on the squad make 20 arrests a month, “you're expected to keep up,” Toure explains. “If you're not in that ballpark, you’ll be cited, demoted and humiliated.”
Plus, in most jurisdictions, police officers earn overtime for court appearances. So essentially, they’re getting paid (at a higher rate, even) to make arrests and citations.
“That's just madness,” says Danielle. “That's just fucking dumb.”
It’s even dumber if you consider this: If you’re a security guard for a store like Gucci or Nike, if nobody steals in a given week, you’re on top of our job. If a police officer makes no arrests in the same time span, they’ve fucked up.
“This is an insane system,” Toure says.
Dispatch the robots (lose the white supremacists)
The FBI has long warned of a large-scale infiltration of white supremacists in American police departments.
“How are we supposed to live in a situation where we have white supremacists with guns and badges who are able to hunt us?” asks Toure.
He says that many routine traffic stops could be handled with cameras and drones. “We don’t need cops sitting like mice on the side of the road, hiding in the bushes, waiting to find somebody who's going five or 10 miles over the speed limit … We could do all of that with cameras and drones.”
Danielle’s on board: “Get a robot to do their job. Because clearly they don't have the temperament to manage a job of this grave importance.”
Last Monday, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer led a group of Congressional Democrats in a moment of silence for George Floyd. They knelt on the floor of Emancipation Hall while draped in Ghanaian Kente-cloth stoles.
“Let's talk about that performance, because that's what the fuck it was,” Danielle says. “How many Black people at protests have you seen donned in Kente cloth?”
“Zero,” Toure replies. “If Kente is not a normal part of your wardrobe, don't just throw it on to signal Black-people solidarity.”
For Danielle, the question is: Who does that signal solidarity with?
“It's so bizarre,” she says. “They might as well have taken a Kwanzaa candle stand and lit it on the Capitol floor.”
Touré agrees: “It was horrifying and embarrassing … and I am fully against kneeling in this moment. I know you're trying to make reference to Colin Kaepernick, but I see Derek Chauvin also. Let's not kneel at all.”
Dems staged the photo op as a prelude to unveiling their new police reform legislation.
But unfortunately, the “horrific performance art photograph” overshadowed the bill, Toure says. “Nancy Pelosi, get off your knees and push this fucking bill through your caucus.”
“She couldn't actually get off of her knees, because she's 80,” Danielle quips.
Can’t stop, won’t stop
“I feel stressed,” Toure says.
“Is that different from normal? democracy-ish is not a sedative. It's not relaxing,” Danielle replies.