Senator Paul Boyer’s November 13 article against defunding the police lacks truth, facts, and reality. Of course everyone wants safe neighborhoods so they can go outside after dark without fear.
Blacks can’t go outside their doors in the daylight without fear. Of course no one wants to see their business or homes go up in flames. Blacks have watched their homes and business go up in flames in Rosewood, Florida. where the white community massacred Blacks and burned down their town. Police watched.
And in Greenwood, Oklahoma, in 1921, where the white community massacred Blacks and burned down Black Wall Street. Police helped. And Cicero, Illinois, in 1951 where whites burned down an entire apartment building leaving other whites homeless so a Black family could not move in. Police stood by.
Chicago police executed Black Panther leader Fred Hampton asleep in his bed in 1969. Philadelphia police dropped a bomb from a helicopter on a house occupied by a liberation group in a Black neighborhood in 1985, killing five children and six adults and burning down a six-block area.
Policing started out as slave patrols hired by plantation owners to protect what they claimed was their property, sending Africans running for their lives. Those patrols evolved into the police, which, especially in the South, were full of Klansman. Most Black people know this; most white people do not.
Boyer quoted an officer he spoke with as saying, “No officer wants to pull the trigger.” The statistics show otherwise. After leading the nation in killings in 2018, a study found that Phoenix has had killing spikes in 2013, 2016 and 2018 and ranked first in shootings (44) with the next highest city being Los Angeles at 14 and Las Vegas at 11.
It has not gotten better. The trend of fatal police shootings in the United States seems to only be increasing, with a total 809 civilians having been shot, 157 of whom were Black, as of October 30, 2020. Additionally, the rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans was much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 32 fatal shootings per million of the population.
Phoenix police policies do not meet international policing standards says, “Deadly Discretion: The Failure of Police Use of Force Policies to Meet Fundamental International Human Rights Law and Standards” (2020). Of the 20 cities reviewed, Phoenix came in 12th. Phoenix was second to last overall in necessity and immediacy of shooting.
For at least 100 years, the police have had the wrong ideas about policing, that brute force and militarization was the best path. After the Watts uprising in 1965, “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society” report suggested more than 200 specific policy changes. The report discussed what caused the problem: poverty; degraded social services; widespread distrust of the police – just like today. Crime is not related to the number of police but to economic and political conditions. When the income gap between the “haves” and “have nots” grows wider, society become unstable.
Instead the police militarized. Budgets ballooned. Money is taken from homeless, health care, infrastructure, education. Reform has failed. Instead, deduct the cost of lawsuits from the police budget. They must pay the consequences for lawlessness. Make every officer carry individual malpractice insurance. They should be responsible for their own misbehavior. The 1965 Kerner Commission called for “a revolution in the way America thinks about crime.” Defund the police may be the revolution we need.
Dianne Post is an attorney and member of Central Arizona National Lawyers Guild and other social justice groups.