Policing and Criminalization Drain Resources and puts Black Lives at Risk
Seattle severely under-funds human needs like housing, childcare, food programs and other essential services, and is facing a deep budget crisis due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, spending on our militarized, bloated policing and criminalization systems is off the charts. While residents face housing costs that have skyrocketed in recent years and mounting unemployment, the City’s current budget spends over $400 million on policing, only $90 million on homeless services, and only $12 million on public health. The City’s budget does not represent a commitment to public safety and well-being, it represents a commitment to racist policing.
Police Reforms Consistently Fail to Protect Black Lives
Police reform efforts—from Minneapolis to Seattle—have failed. Every time people rise up against police violence, reforms are proposed that inevitably expand police budgets and numbers, and thereby expand the reach of police violence. After uprisings in the 1960’s and 70’s police forces were expanded to hire cops of color, and new programs under the guise of “community policing” were designed that increased policing of homeless and poor people, sent cops into schools, and increased police enforcement of “quality of life” crimes like drug possession, panhandling, transit fare evasion, and loitering. All of this contributed to the boom in criminalization, so that today the US is the most imprisoning country in the world, with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. People of color, indigenous people, people with disabilities, poor people, women, queer and trans people, are particularly targeted for arrest and criminalization. Black people disproportionately bear the brunt of this violence.
After Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, we saw new calls for police reforms that similarly failed to make sufficient change. The government spent enormous sums to add body cameras to police uniforms, but it did not stop the violence and, in fact, the footage was much more often used against criminalized people than against violent cops. The undeniable truth is that even if they ban particular chokeholds, prosecute a few cops, or take away a few weapons, the police will keep doing what they have always done, being a lawless force of violence against vulnerable communities. Policing emerged from slave patrols and militarized processes of settling stolen land. It is not in need of small fixes–it is operating exactly as designed. It is time to stop investing in reforms that only expand its reach and its cost. It is time to invest in actual safety, not more policing. Black lives depend on it.
We Need to Divest from Police, Prisons, Courts, and Prosecution
The problem isn’t just policing. Seattle spends enormously on our municipal court, a place primarily dedicated to processing homeless people into jail. King County recently spent over $230 million on a new youth jail where kids are traumatized, separated from families and schools, and subject to abuse. All across the system, from who gets arrested, to who experiences pretrial detention, to what sentences are determined by courts, to who gets deported, the system is targeted at Black people, people of color, indigenous people, women, people with disabilities, and queer and trans people. For years, people across our region have fought to stop new precincts, jails, and prisons from being built and have fought to shut down existing facilities. We’ve long known, its time to DIVEST!
Investing in Community and Keeping Each Other Safe
If more cops, jails and prisons don’t keep us safe, what does? Common sense tells us people are safer when they have housing and income, when they have reliable childcare, when they can access health care including mental health support and drug treatment that is culturally competent. None of these things are guaranteed in our region right now–in fact people are facing less and less access to these necessities as housing costs have soared and unemployment has increased. If we really care about well-being, and about defending Black lives, we would start by fully funding human needs.
Additionally, we can work on building strategies for responding to emergencies that actually work. When people are having mental health crises, mental health workers, not armed police, are what they need. When people are facing domestic violence, they need support to plan for safety including housing and transportation resources, not a policing and court system that often criminalizes the person being abused, and does nothing to address the root causes of endemic gender violence. There are tons of amazing resources about how we can actually respond to violence in ways that stop it and prevent it, which policing and criminalization fail at. And there are tons of ideas for how to reinvest in real safety and well-being. Here’s a few to get started:
King County Equity Now proposes specific property that can be turned over to Black-led initiatives and other ideas for investing in communities.
8toAbolition.com lays out a clear framework for divesting from policing and investing in meeting human needs.
TransformHarm.org is a resource hub about ending violence. https://transformharm.org/
The StoryTelling & Organizing Project (STOP) is a community project collecting and sharing stories about everyday people taking action to end interpersonal violence. https://www.stopviolenceeveryday.org/
Creative Interventions made an in-depth toolkit for responding to interpersonal violence. http://www.creative-interventions.org/tools/toolkit/
Here are some ideas about what to do instead of calling the police. And here is a syllabus of resources about alternatives to calling the police.
Youth mobilized in recent protests made this graphic showing what divesting from police and investing in youth might look like: