Yes: Black Lives Matter (4)

Defund the police?

White people now know what this country’s Black citizens have known for a very long time: if you’re Black, you don’t phone the police if you need help.

The scenes that are playing out on our tv screens night after night reflect a tragic irony: if you ask a cop why they volunteered for the police—actually choosing to be one of the people who run towards danger and catastrophe when everyone is running away—most of them will say that they wanted to serve. They wanted to make things better, to stand up for the weak, to push back against those who would abuse and harm the innocent. And many cops do, fighting hard to give a balanced response to all the people in their town.

Santa Cruz, CA police take a knee during a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

But those are not the police officers we’re seeing on our screens. What we see is a group of idealistic young men and women who have been turned into a pack of huge, armored monsters cradling weapons that can mow down a crowd.  We see men (and women? Can one tell, beneath those helmets?) whose single learned response has been shaped into aggression, whether to peaceful demonstrators or journalists with cameras or a tipsy Black man who fell asleep in his car.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to abolish the police entirely. Sometimes a situation requires a big guy with a gun—and occasionally, a whole lot of big people with large guns. But that situation is rare.  And yet, the response too often, especially when it involves citizens of color, is not.

“Defund the police” is a terrible, all-or-nothing slogan.  Sure, we could do without the police if nobody owned a gun, if no one could drink or abuse drugs, if we had truly robust social services that cut off domestic violence and treated mental illnesses before things got ugly.

Until those things happen, we need a police force. However, recent events have made it clear to the most oblivious among us that the system is not working—that giving civilian police military equipment, encouraging the police to think of tasers, tear gas, and rubber bullets as safely non-lethal, and training cops to greet every situation by inflating their chests and trying to dominate only creates a terrible circle of escalation, violence, and mistrust.

90% of the time, confrontation only makes things worse. Yes, we need to be prepared for that remaining 10%—but not at the cost of escalating every situation until it ends up there.

Instead, we need to Re-fund the Police. We need to get rid of those massive armored vehicles, retired from war zones, that make a department think–hey, this demonstration might be the time to finally make use of the thing.  After all, when you have a really sexy new hammer in your hand, don’t you just ache for a nail to use it on?  And if the only tool you’ve been trained to use is a hammer, why would you expect anything else but to bash?

We need to stop equipping regular cops with enough arms to put down a Russian invasion, and instead equip them with the skills to defuse a tricky situation.  We have to make police unions accountable for their members, so “bad apples” don’t keep moving on to spoil new departments.  And we need to shift a whole lot of their budget to the police department’s natural partners, the services that aim to change things before they spill out onto the street and into the emergency rooms: mental health, social services, women’s clinics, housing inspectors, school counselors. Schools, period.

We also need to rethink what a cop looks like.  Not just the color of their skin, but the person under the uniform. Time after time, studies have shown that more female cops would help stop the brutal police response, that women cops are better at de-escalating violence rather than pushing it higher.  Women cops even have fewer citizen complaints against them.

Women are taught from birth to be aware of our vulnerability. Even a tall, muscular woman will automatically check her surroundings in a dark street, has learned how to carry keys as weapons, and will back away from a belligerent drunk in a bar.

So bring in women, and cops of color—which will in turn make the police an organization where women and people of color feel more welcome.  Make the police into peace officers, not a paramilitary.  Lock that equipment away, teach them how to defuse, de-escalate, and introduce a human link into a situation.

Like this cop answering a noise complaint:

Which ended up not with a shooting, but with a surprise guest:

Which in turn ended up as a national project, #HoopsNotCrime.

When the question of #DefundThePolice comes to your community, think a while about what it actually means.  Here’s the basic Wikipedia definition. “Defunding the police” doesn’t necessarily mean doing away with the police, but it does involve changing how we think about punishment.  It sound irresponsible, but when only 5% of police time is spent dealing with serious offenses, wouldn’t it be more sensible to assign those traffic violations and late-night noisy parties to someone who might have other tools for dealing with the trouble than just arrest?

The police are a major part of why Black Lives Matter. Maybe it’s time to look at what we can do about that.

Posted in


  1. Libby Toews on June 25, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    Thanks for this, Laurie. Police are important but as you say give somebody the toys they will want to play with them . 9/11 caused a huge upswing in anti terrorist funding buying tanks etc. Goodness only knows how these invaders would get so far inland. Balloons. ? Refunding or reallocated funding should be emphasized. Perhaps longer training too.

    • Laurie King on June 25, 2020 at 12:37 pm

      I am generally pro-union, but I’m afraid the police unions have become a large part of the problem.

  2. Karen Howell-Clark on June 26, 2020 at 1:50 am

    A hearty thumbs up to this post.
    I’m not so sure the slogan is terrible, since its shock value garners attention and spurs discussion, but that may just be my personal bubble perception.

    • Laurie King on June 26, 2020 at 11:32 am

      Agreed–although I do like a slogan that is both accurate and compelling.

  3. Sue Lester on June 26, 2020 at 10:37 am

    You expressed my thoughts in a way I never could have.
    When our local government suggested that the budget for police should be reduced from 38.9% of the city budget to 32%, the chief of police said he’d have to end the night shift and stop responding to domestic violence calls. I thought we could cut back on tear gas and the military “toys.”
    I’m a 70 year old white woman, and I get uncomfortable when the police show up. They seem to see us all as the enemy, and their “duty” is to control the situation, not help.
    I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

    • Laurie King on June 26, 2020 at 11:32 am

      This attitude of us versus them seems to apply even to the budgeting problems. Police departments ought to be working with the city councils, not trying to threaten them…

  4. Monica on July 10, 2020 at 12:41 am

    I just saw the ad for your new book – I thought it would be a good new series – however, after reading your posts – I will never read one. You are here to entertain! I don’t want your pandering political opinion! I hope you never have to call one of those evil policemen someday – they are our wall between evil and anarchy. You are deluded.

    • Laurie King on July 11, 2020 at 11:01 pm

      Hi Monica, I’m sorry you didn’t bother to read the entire blog post, which I think made fairly clear that I do not regard police in any way “evil” or that I wish to do away with the police force. Rather, I hope we can free them to do the work they are best suited for, by giving more funding to the back-up programs of social workers, mental health workers, and the like.


Leave a Comment