The last couple of months have been tough for everyone. Not only because of the global pandemic we’ve all been living through, but we’ve also been reminded of the crisis of systemic and violent racism that is still at work, across the globe.
I cannot speak for anyone but myself on this topic, but what I can say is that dismantling the racist structures on which pretty much everything we interact with is built should be, and must be, our primary concern.
I have had some really really difficult conversations with people I love, who have been unwilling to truly examine the way they treat race issues and the way they perpetuate them. It has been hard, and these are difficult conversations to have, but they are far easier than — incomparable to, actually — having to live through the life threatening racism that Black people suffer on a daily basis.
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One of the difficult conversations I’ve been having recently is about defunding the police. I think it is difficult for a lot of white people to separate the reality of the police and the idea of the police in their minds. For many white people, the police are an organisation who we trust to keep us safe, to prevent crime and to help us. I have personally never had a problematic interaction with a police officer. But then again, I am not Black.
The truth is that the police forces in America and in the UK are systemically racist, as are much of our societal groups. One reason why the police, in particular, are being discussed more is because they have so much power; they have the power to take life without real consequence. And this is a power that they have exercised time and again.
Some of the first policing groups in America started as slave patrols. That is to say, they were gangs who were sent out to patrol for escaped slaves, hunt them, capture them and bring them back to the captors. That is the basis for the American policing system. This philosophy hasn’t made a huge amount of progress since; black people still live in fear of the police in America based on a clear track record of police killing black citizens.
On the 25th of May this year, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, murdered George Floyd, a Black man, by suffocating him. Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds amid Floyd’s cries for his mother and his begging to be able to breathe- a statement that echoed Eric Garner’s last words too.
This is the most recently well known murder to have sparked the global protests in favour of Black Lives Matter, but it is not the only one. Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, was shot in her own home two months before by police, and the list of names we must never forget is growing: Tamir Rice, Philando Castille, Elijah McClain, Stephon Clark, Alton Sterling… These are only a very few of the names of people murdered by the police.
The British police force is by no means innocent of this. Although British police are less likely to carry guns than in America, only in the last week or so, a video has been released showing a British police person kneeling on a Black man’s neck as a restraint.
The video clearly shows the officer mirroring the exact technique used by Derek Chauvin, George Floyd’s murderer. Black people are four times more likely than a white person to be stopped and searched in London. All this is to say that the way that Black people are treated in the UK is still underpinned by racist structures, and it must stop.
Because the police have been fundamental in much of the damage caused to Black people’s existences in the US and here in the UK, they are a first port of call for calls to change. The structure in which the police force exists is inclusive of all kinds of other public services including the prison system, schooling, social work and medical attention, but the police force, which is meant to protect everyone who needs to be protected, is failing miserably, and therefore needs to be the first point of change because it is currently so dangerous.
The concept of defunding the police does not mean that we are advocating anarchy, but that we disband a group that is systemically and intrinsically racist. It does not mean all police people are racist or bad, it means that all police people work for a department that is built to disadvantage Black people. And that inbuilt racism needs to be torn down.
The idea of defunding the police and redistributing the funds to other causes such as education, social work, mental health care and welfare isn’t a new one, but the recent activism surrounding the murder of George Floyds has helped the cause rise to the surface once again. By defunding the police, lawmakers will be reducing the opportunity and capacity for police brutality and violence.
For a bit of perspective; the police force in Los Angeles has a budget of 3.14 billion, 1.8 billion of which has nothing to do with the pensions and benefits of its employees. This money could be spent on improving the city’s housing, providing relief for families hit by Covid 19, improving education and youth services.
The story is the same in city after city: governing bodies are spending enormous amounts of money on sustaining and building a system that for many Black people is deadly. Instead they ought to be cutting their police budget and redirecting the resulting money to causes that will benefit their citizens, rather than murdering them.