Understanding Over-Policing & Defunding the Police

During the protests, people are talking about systemic racism, over-policing, school-to-prison pipeline, police brutality and defunding the police. You need to understand where this is coming from. This is but a primer to understand a small portion of the issues leading to cries for defunding the police.

Whenever a politician says “law and order” or “tough on crime” or “zero tolerance” it means increased policing and arrests. This is reflected in racial profiling (stop and frisk) targeted at minorities regardless of socio-economic standing. It means arrest quotas that affect promotion and advancement within police departments.

It translates into the school-to-prison pipeline that allows police (with no college degree nor training in child development/education/sociology) to arrest children for minor infractions causing a juvenile record. Over-policing allows police to use excessive force and brutalize disenfranchised neighborhoods and target people of color indiscriminately.

Ironically, as politicians take a “tough on crime” stance, violence has actually gone down, but police budgets and presence have increased. The American criminal justice system was never based on rehabilitation but punitive and on capitalism.

Police brutality is nothing new. In the 1960s, police attacked civil rights protesters with dogs and water hoses in the name of “law and order.” In the 1970s and 80s, it was well-known that the Chicago Police Department engaged in torture tactics. Under Police Commander Jon Burge, over 100 black men were tortured into confessing to crimes they never committed under the guise of a traffic-violation pullover.

The lynch mobs of the South were replaced by a law enforcement system that targets and profiles black people for no reason or minor infractions (jay walking, failure to signal while turning) that result in their injury, incarceration, or death. Hurricane Carter, the Central Park Five, and Rolando Cruz are examples of not only horrible policing, but dishonest prosecutors withholding information to get convictions and bolster their careers.

Our criminal justice system is flawed. It is punitive and cares little about rehabilitation. Prisons are big business in the United States and people business is good! Mandatory minimums and longer sentences makes for huge profits. Have we forgotten about the judges that took bribes from private prisons to send juveniles away? Prison laborers fight wildfires, farm, sew lingerie for Victoria Secret and even robocall for congressional candidates.

As stated in Fanshen, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Unbridled police actions breeds impunity. Brutality protected by police code of silence culture spawns public mistrust of those they are supposed to serve and protect.

Over Policing (Racial Profiling & Quotas)

The Guardian noted: “In 2014 and 2015, New York officers staged a “slowdown” to protest the mayor, arguing that if they did less police work, the city would be less safe. But the opposite turned out to be true. When the officers took a break from “broken windows policing”, meaning targeting low-level offenses, there was a drop in crime. Researchers posited that aggressive policing on the streets for petty matters can ultimately cause social disruption and lead to more crime. Policing that punishes poverty, such as hefty traffic tickets and debts, can also create conditions where crime is more likely. When New York ended “stop and frisk”, crime did not rise.”

An NYPD officer talked about “collar quotas” for arrest and targeting black and Latino communities. It was a cornerstone of Mike Bloomberg’s stop and frisk policy aka “throw them against the wall and frisk them.” Several NYPD officers gave a video interview on racial quotas and how they were informed to target blacks and Latinos.

School-to-Prison Pipeline

In John Hughes teen angst movies, teenagers received Saturday detention (The Breakfast Club) for acting out in school. Or, if you were lucky to be Ferris Bueller (epitome of white privilege), you never suffered consequences at all.

Today, if you live in a predominantly white area or attend private school, it remains the same with the role of disciplinarian relegated to the vice principal. If you attend public school, particularly in urban areas, school resource officers (police with no training or background in child psychology or sociology) arrest you for doing the very same thing the lovable delinquents in The Breakfast Club received detention for.

I went to high school in the north suburbs of Chicago my sophomore and junior year. My experience was similar to the John Hughes movies. The summer before my senior year, my parents moved back to the city. The educational experience at my Chicago public high school was not the same. There was a school resource officer rumored to be in a relationship with one of the high school students. A year or so after graduation, they were married.

Zero tolerance policies were introduced by former President George H.W. Bush for the war on drugs and adopted by schools. Black Lives Matter opposition to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary candidacy was based on her “super-predator” comments.

Attorney-activist and legal scholar Nekima Levy Pounds noted that “schools have become a microcosm of mass incarceration“ with cops in school as disciplinarians instead of educators. In addition to suspension, 5th graders can be arrested and charged with assault and battery for a school fight. This goes on the child’s permanent record. Something as simple as throwing a spit ball can result in a disorderly conduct charge. Nekima concluded, “All of this leads to a deeper divide in the type of education received and provided to schools in our communities and fuels the school-to-prison pipeline.”

After doing some research, I found that kids as young as six are being arrested for tantrums — most have special needs or disabilities. Children and teens are arrested for not having hall passes, throwing a snowball, joking, farting, passing love notes, and violation of uniform code by not wearing a belt.

A teacher cannot chokehold, push, or body slam a student, yet school resource officers can do so without consequence. Students can be unruly, and teachers are trained to deal with that. However, cops with no training are allowed to arrest students for something that detention, a social worker or counselor would be better equipped to handle. Police in schools to bring our children “to heel” has simply lead to our children being assaulted and increasing the school to prison pipeline.

Recently, a six-year-old was arrested for having a tantrum at school and taken to a mental health facility and detained for two days. Kids have tantrums all the time. Imagine if your school or daycare arrested and sent your child to a mental facility for an outburst. These are not isolated events in the black community.

An autistic teen left his group home. A group advisor, black man, came to his aid to calm him down. Police shot the man. A college student doing work-study cleaning around his dorm is accosted by police. A father is on his front lawn with his children when a cop came onto his property and alleged that he has a warrant in Louisiana without asking for identification – wrong guy.

Defunding the Police

Refinery29 noted, “Over the past 30 years, police budgets have ballooned in American cities, with Forbes reporting that the U.S. now spends over $100 billion collectively on policing (despite reports that crime has fallen across the board during the same time frame, irrespective of the increased budgets)…a 2017 report from the Center For Popular Democracy found that reallocating the money currently being spent on policing towards “a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing… [would be] far more successful in reducing crime than police or prisons.”

With our brief overview of over-policing, police brutality, and school-to-prison pipeline, you get a better picture of why there are calls to defund the police. When you harm someone, you do not tell the injured party to forget they are harmed because you meant well. Nor do you callously dismiss them when they call on you to own up to the harm caused.

However, this is what law enforcement and the police unions do every time we demand officers be held accountable for police brutality. Instead, like the Buffalo police department, law enforcement rallies around the “bad apples” in a show of support. If there were only a few bad cops, then why across the country are police in every city brutally beating peaceful protesters, holding them for hours while denying them access to water, bathrooms, or medical treatment.

Why were police shooting rubber bullets at reporters on live television? Impunity – they know, like Anthony Abbate, there are no consequences because the police code of silence will protect them.

Below are some ideas of what defunding can look like. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. For more on defunding the police, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors gave an interview to NPR. Listen here.

  1. Reducing their budget and putting those dollars into the community. Crime rates have gone down but police budgets have increased exponentially. Bring back after school programs and youth job programs.
  2. De-militarize the police. The police should not have military weapons and tanks.
  3. Get police out of schools. Police are not educators, nor do they have the training to deal with education. Instead more counselors and social workers should be employed.
  4. Do not use police for private security. Actor Michael B. Jordan said that he nor any of his companies will use police for security but will instead use private security.
  5. Personal Liability. Make police officers and/or their pensions personally liable for settlements from brutality and/or excessive force.
  6. Promotion & Advancement. Do not make promotion contingent on arrests. Get rid of written and “unwritten” quotas.
  7. Education. Require police officers to have college degrees in criminal justice or sociology or social work. Most cops have 600-800 hours of training to be an officer. You cannot be a receptionist or administrative assistant without a Bachelor’s degree but you can be a cop carrying a gun and interact with the public with a training course! If they are to be public servants then require a field of expertise no different from teachers, therapists, and social workers who interact with the public.

Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.