We have to think about — what does it look like to have a future without police?Phillipe Cunningham; Minneapolis, Minnesota Council Member
I get that former President Barack Obama had the marquee name in yesterday’s virtual “Reimagining policing in the Wake of Continued Police Violence” town hall — it’s been almost eight years since America has seen a live Commander in Chief take center stage who sounds like a leader.
But I think Minnesota Councilperson Phillipe Cunningham took the show with his case for defunding the police. His plain-language reasoning and approach sound less-shocking than the branding may appear. More on Cunningham later …
First, about the former President …
Almost five years ago, and after reading then-President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing task force report [pdf] — a reform roadmap for city officials, police departments and communities — I smirked.
And I shrugged. Here’s why.
There is a longstanding leadership model that cautions executives to against handing out instructions to audiences unless you understand their abilities and skill levels to carry out those instructions. Your response to that assessment should be to provide or identify the tailored supports that will help them execute your plan.
Obama and his team have damn-near 3D-zonal-chess-to-the-unlimited-power skills to know that city Mayors and other locally-elected officials are nearly scared to death of how police unions — who deal in their legendary superpowers of creating large and unbreakable voting blocs, influencing public opinions, and executing work stoppages or other forms of selective law enforcement — can end political careers.
Therefore, I smirked. And I shrugged.
Nearly five years later, and after hearing Obama reference his report yesterday, I laughed when I realized that I smirked and shrugged again. He did admit that the follow-through wasn’t successful.
Thus, my smirk and shrug the first time …
I mean, what cop on which American street needs a bayonet for duty? And why did Obama’s Defense Department ship bayonets to these police departments?
And I still say that Obama’s Justice Department should have swung a strong hand — and send a message to police departments nationwide — by going after the City of Ferguson, Missouri with RICO charges since the city was running the most modern gangsta white-collar-and-ninja-suit racketeering operation that preyed on poor Black people. The federal government instead settled with Ferguson under less-damaging charges.
But we have Obama’s report, with mentions of implicit bias with no recommendations to assess for bias prior to onboarding new cops; or other measures that many of us have heard before and are in place (e.g., body cameras and community policing), but police violence and racial profiling continue.
And let’s not get into police departments’ recruitment of war veterans with PTSD …
Anyway, The three reform ideas Obama offered are not new, by any mark. The only difference between making these three asks years ago and now is that a brutal murder of George Floyd out of many others became a tipping point for gathering an audience to listen.
Still, they are not awful ideas, and can be used in a broader election strategy.
Defund the police — a simple case
Councilperson Cunningham’s argument for defunding the police (he enters the discussion at 33:32) is not new to activists, but it’s a fresh-out-the-factory concept to many government organizations.
With violent crime decreasing in Minnesota, Mayor Jacob Frey proposed a $10 million funding increase for the local police department, bringing that department’s budget to $193 million — one of the largest line items in the city’s total budget.
Affordable housing received only $31 million. And crime prevention? $400,000.
According to Councilperson Cunningham, the proposed increase made no sense when paired with the city’s largest source of 911 police calls: domestic assaults.
There’s always political will to put more money into the police budget.
The police budget in Minneapolis is … almost $200 million, and we have right now, we have approved last year a budget of $1.6 billion. [The police department] take[s] up a huge chunk.
I had to fight relentlessly to get $50,000 for a domestic violence intervention program strategy for us to implement, despite the fact that in Minneapolis, the number-one reason for 911-initiated police calls for service is because of domestic assault.
Mayor Frey used irrational math to request $10 million to hire more cops — to break up domestic violence situations?
Cunningham’s reason for a lower-cost solution is — well, reasonable:
We are not successfully getting to the root of these issues, so having a systemic institutionalized new approach to public safety that is community-led, that invests in communities with the prevention intervention as well as thinking big, even moving further upstream thinking about housing, jobs, employment, training, education, thinking about all of that — that is what true, comprehensive public safety is …
Is asking police departments to justify their budgets from a bottoms-up perspective anti-police?
Of course not. Many organizations of varying sizes take this approach. That’s why Cunningham is asking the right question:
What would it look like for us to not need police? And work backwards from there.
If we need cops, so be it. I also hate domestic abuse. But adding more cops so they can respond to after-the-fact domestic assaults? I’m down for prevention here.
More expansively, as the councilperson hinted, working-class robberies are generally a meeting of desperation and opportunity. Why not provide training and employment opportunities where it makes sense to do so?
With such crime intervention measures in place, and as a city observes decreases in crime, would we need larger police budgets?
No, for the most part. We can then defund the police instead.
Watch the entire town hall below …
song currently stuck in my head: “girls don’t always sing about boys” – ego ella may