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Defunding the Police: A Wiser Economic Choice

Following the brutal killing of an innocent black man George Floyd, floods of protests broke out demanding a radical rethinking of the law enforcement in democratic societies. This piece aims to demystify the refusal of certain ideological groups of the feasibility of the demand.

In the middle of the night, police officers on the find of a drug network break into the house of an innocent black couple as they fail to respond to the police’s announcement. Taking the police to be intruders, the man shot a bullet which hit the police officer’s leg. The police officers in retaliation immediately shot 32 bullets relentlessly and brutally. Six of these shots hit the woman fatally and she died. That woman is Breonna Taylor and this isn’t just her story. It is the story of racial minorities across the United States who are never mentioned in the public discourse.

As citizens of democratic societies, we give up a part of our rights to the state in return for the state ensuring our safety and safeguarding our interests. Police force is one such tool for the State to ensure the well-being of the people and maintain law and order. In addition, the police in the US take on the additional burden of being first responders, a task for which they aren’t necessarily equipped for. It is essential to understand that law and order itself are two distinct concepts and the State needs to prioritise the rule of law over the maintenance of order. In the United States, the police structure is governed at state level and faces varying degrees of challenges. The police is an entity born from the roots of the social contract between the state and its citizens and hence, its effectiveness largely depends on public approval and cooperation. Moreover, this force faces a structural problem of lack of representation.The police force comprises an overwhelming 61% white people and only 15.5% people of African-American descent according to the 2018 American Community Census1. In a society as divided as America, where the fault lines have deepened and erupted, mistrust and malice between racial minorities and the majority is obvious. This leads to the faltering of the social contract.

The primary issue with the “Defund the Police” narrative is the mispotrayal of the same in public discourse. The movement is born out of historical racial injustices and asks for the State Law Enforcement to serve People of Colour (PoC) in an equitable and inclusive manner. It is a rethinking of the criminal justice system to mark a shift from punishment and justice to retributive measures and ensure better rehabilitation. In economic terms, this would pan out as a shift of budgetary allocation to community services from the police. The idea is not to create a lawless society but a more holistic legal process.

It is important to understand that the police spends a majority of its time in dealing with non-criminal and minor calls for help2. The interaction of the law enforcement and citizens in the status quo is centred around the power imbalance with respect to arms-bearing capabilities. Policies such as Stop-and-Frisk have been known to uphold and normalise racial profiling and being a tool for excessive use of force against marginalised communities. From a policy standpoint, defunding the police would pan out with the end of legal power of the police to execute and process minor crimes. With the police budgets being clamped down upon, the size of the force itself will shrink substantially and concentrate the law enforcement action in cases of serious crimes and their investigation. The reduction in police budgets needs to be supplemented with the decriminalization of minor offences. The same requires a rethinking of the criminal justice system.

The current criminal justice system relies heavily on the principle of Punishment and Deterrence with little perspective of the re-introduction of the “criminals” into the society. In run down neighbourhoods where police surveillance is maximum, law enforcement has a fundamentally broken and soured relationship with the masses. The fact that police commands fear in the hearts of the homeless and destitutes is concerningly normalised. In such neighbourhoods, there is need for prioritised funding in social development projects such as architecture, education and drug and alcohol deaddiction programmes. Rather than an authoritative system, conversational and interactive democratic structures which involve and keep these people tied to the system are much more effective and impactful. A successful implementation model can be drawn from the Indian state of Sikkim where the state decriminalised the possession and usage of small amounts of drugs. The administration went ahead and offered rehabilitation and detoxification services for all users of small quantities of drugs. It is essential to note that the State didn’t make these services compulsory but gave the people the prerogative to opt for the same. Although no official data for the same is available, interviews conducted by Indian media house the Print with jail officials show how the prison occupancy fell from 200 to a mere 66 following the amendment.

Another economic perspective that becomes paramount in a conversation around the cost of a fundamentally oppressive force is the expenditure on misconduct lawsuits against the police which the State bears. Looking back at the past decade, the state of Chicago spent a whopping half a billion dollars in settling police misconduct cases and more than 200 million USD in fees for lawyers arguing for the forces. Concerningly, Chicago isn’t alone. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the state of Los Angeles spent around 91.5 million USD in police misconduct charges. The question that now arises is – are the cities in a position to bear such magnanimous drains? Simply put, no. With the budgetary systems worldwide grappling with the cost of the pandemic, the states are in no shape to take such enormous burdens on their privy coffer. More importantly, law enforcement demands a huge chunk of the share for administrative and training needs in budgetary allocations with necessarily no significant fall in crime rates.

Following the events of 2020, the world was forced to open its eyes and actively recognise the existence and prevalence of systemic racism and normalisation of police brutality. With the cost of police misconduct mounting every passing year and the crime rates still remaining high, the time is to rethink and reimagine the law enforcement structures. Changing budgetary priorities and empowering social justice and development are the need of the hour to address the historical racial injustices.

By Mehul Joshi
1st Year Undergraduate Student, SRCC.









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