As social media has become flooded with posts supporting Black Lives Matter, detesting police brutality and raising awareness of the racial injustices going on across the country, many are vying to find solutions to bring about justice.
Protests have been organized across the country, murals have been painted in prominent cities and hundreds of petitions have been circulated online. But, many think that this movement should be taken one step further by confronting the root of the problem — law enforcement and their senseless killings and inadequate response to horrific instances of racial injustice.
Law enforcement has been corrupt from its beginning. According to TIME, many of the first police forces in the North were formed for financial gain and ensuring the safety of cargo, while in the South, they aimed to preserve the institution of slavery. This corrupt and racist past has haunted law enforcement for decades. And, because of its unjust history and unnecessarily violent present, the laws of the land haven’t been upheld equally for all citizens.
Just a small example are the arrest rates for possession of marijuana. The ACLU reports that Black citizens are 3.73 times more likely than white citizens to be arrested on marijuana charges, a fact that’s particularly interesting now knowing that Virginia's laws on marijuana were changed July 1. Many prisoners are still serving time for an offense that’s been decriminalized.
Beyond the staggering rates of minority arrests, police officers have been caught using excessive force dozens of times across the U.S. Harrisonburg police recently published stats on their use of force in 2019, which show instances of force being used on 14 black citizens, 10 hispanic citizens, 19 white citizens, and 3 citizens of undefined race. Hashtags calling for justice for names such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain have been posted over two million times on Instagram alone. Many believe that training police for only six months, compared to the three years of law school licensed lawyers are required to attend, doesn't add up. If one occupation must attend over two more years of school to defend or prosecute people in a nonviolent environment, it doesn’t make sense that those who are given the ability to harm or kill civilians for breaking laws should require less schooling.
The lack of proper training and excessive funding for police forces have recently been contested by many. Thousands of Americans are calling for the defunding of the police. Upon first hearing this, one may think that this means abolishing the institution of law enforcement, but that’s simply not the case. Ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s shared a helpful image of what defunding the police is actually calling for: Reallocating funds to other areas that could benefit communities more than just the standard police officers posted in their neighborhoods.
The New York Post describes defunding the police as focusing more of the budget on community resources, such as education, medical access, mental health and substance abuse counselors, and violence prevention programs. The ability to contact someone who is qualified to intervene nonviolently could drastically decrease the need to call the police in many instances. This balancing of the budget is helpful not only for the community but also for police officers themselves. Police are stretched thin and often asked to respond to situations for which they aren’t adequately prepared. Allowing the police to focus on their specializations and bringing outside resources into a community could boost the morale of all those involved, as well as provide better quality aid to those who need it.
Although recirculating the budget to create new departments that could eventually lower crime rates and help those who don’t need immediate police attention won’t erase the systematic oppression that law enforcement has come to represent, it will create an opportunity for police to have a strong positive impact on their communities.
Liz Riccio is a Media arts and design and psychology double major. Contact her at email@example.com.