Letter to the Editor: Defund or Reform?
Updated: Mar 22
When millions of people all over the country and the world peacefully protest racial injustice and the Attorney General of the United States says there is no systemic racism in America, you know he is out of touch with the citizens of this country. When the President does not condemn acts of racism or offer a message of comfort and hope when the people are in pain and anguish, and barricades himself with a fence surrounding The White House, you can believe there is a very real problem. It may not start at the top, but it certainly continues to live there. So can communities find a grassroots solution?
Defund the police department? This has burst on the scene amid the hysteria of the anger, grief, and frustration of a people who have been peacefully protesting police brutality against black people for over 50 years. Defunding the police department does not mean: get rid of the police. The discussion is to reallocate some of those funds, which are often up to one third of a city’s budget, to community projects such as community centers, parks, libraries, youth programs, and programs that will be beneficial to uplift all in the community. Can the police department function effectively with such a severe reduction of their budget? How is the fire department functioning with the reduction of their budget? How about the school department? Will reducing their budget really reduce the racial problems in Rhode Island or will it just make them underfunded? Do we want our police chasing criminals in a ’67 Dodge Dart, fighting bank robbers with derringers, wearing body armor that can’t be replaced, and not wearing body cams? (Still, we don’t need to outfit them like a battalion of soldiers going off to war.) If we are to reduce the police department budget we should certainly do so with thoughtful examination and intelligence so we don’t inadvertently shoot ourselves in the foot in our enthusiasm to curb their activities.
While I have heard people actually say we should get rid of the police, I think we all know that in the event of that impracticality we all would be left with “thoughts and prayers” [if] we called 911 and needed a police officer. The reality of the seemingly utopian world without a police presence is beautiful, until the criminal element slides in to steal what they want anywhere they want, and citizens take the law into their own hands, and the strong prey upon the weak.
Still, we do celebrate the police in this country. We celebrated them after 911. We celebrate them when we see them working within the community. We celebrate their heroism all the time, and mourn the loss for their family when one falls in the line of duty.
The better word we are searching for, I believe, is reform. What we are looking for is systemic reform: re-education, re-training, re-examining the application process to weed out potential officers with a violent or prejudicial nature, and abolishing the system that moves a police officer with a disciplinary history from one department to another, like the Catholic church did with priests accused of child abuse, with no record of the complaint. Revise the Officers’ Bill of Rights to get rid of the section that allows an officer to use undo violence on a citizen with impunity.
Camden New Jersey dumped their entire police department and built a new one. They cut their crime in half. This would be a good example to consider and discuss. I don’t imagine that was an inexpensive move, but it’s worth looking at.
Are there criminal elements? Yes, of all colors. But this should not remove the presumption of innocence of a human being because of the color of their skin. Because of this, in many communities in the US, the police are not considered your friend. Because of the systemic racism and prejudice within some police departments, the mere presence of a police officer breeds a nervous tension in fear of your life for a traffic violation, or for driving an expensive car in a neighborhood an officer feels a person of your color does not belong. You cannot walk to work. You cannot go for a jog. You cannot bird watch in a public park. You cannot sit in your car. You cannot send your child to the playground. You cannot have an alternative sexual identity or sexual orientation.
When people say, “All lives matter,” I want to ask: Why are black lives treated so poorly? Why are other lives held in such contempt by so many people in this country? It’s not as if we don’t [technically] have equal rights guaranteed as citizens of these United States. But for reasons of prejudice, ignorance, and fear, we forever have to step up and fight to keep them from being taken away in the most systemic, brutal, and careless manner, and with impunity. Hate has lived here for decades. It’s grown roots. It added an in-law apartment to the hearts that said: You may not enjoy the same rights as me because you’re different and I don’t like who you are. More rights for you must mean less rights for me.
Well, millions of people all over the world have stood up to say you are tap dancing on our last nerve and that change must happen now. More rights for me does not mean less rights for you. That’s why they are called equal rights and they are for all.
The message, the real deep-rooted message to take away from these protests is to parents. Do not teach your children to hate. Be sure they are not learning to hate at school, in their recreational activities, from your neighbors, from their friends, or from their social media. Children have to be taught in order to hate and discriminate. They have to be carefully and specifically taught. In the meantime, we need to teach our police departments that their duty to protect and defend includes all lives. Yes, black lives matter, too.
Bradford Greer is a Cape Verdean native Rhode Islander who grew up in Massachusetts and returned to Providence in 2003. He is a retired Customer Service Representative, a member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, and a writer for OptionsRI. He has performed in several theaters and sung with the Providence Gay Men's Chorus and the Boston Gay Men's Chorus.