Crime & Justice

US protesters’ rallying cry: “Defund the Police”

By Mario Villar

New York, Jun 8 (efe-epa).- The indignation and anger that erupted following last month’s death of an African-American man at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have now begun to crystallize in the form of some concrete demands, with one being heard loudest of all: “Defund the Police.”

What would that entail in reality? It is not entirely clear. The slogan encompasses a spectrum of proposals from the radical to the more moderate. For now, it is an idea that is broad enough to unite thousands upon thousands of demonstrators under one umbrella.

Some are calling for public funds to be redirected, with less money going to security forces and more to crime-prevention efforts that focus on social programs, education and the fight against poverty.

But others want to go much further and are looking to dismantle police departments and turn over their functions to other agencies.

The concept is not new, but it has gained steam since video emerged of a May 25 incident in which a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was seen in bystander video kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed, 46-year-old African-American suspect, George Floyd, for nearly nine minutes even though the man – and bystanders – repeatedly pleaded for mercy.

Floyd died that same day of “cardiopulmonary arrest,” according to the official autopsy, which said the suspect was suffering from heart problems and also was under the effect of fentanyl intoxication but did not link those factors to his death.

An independent autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family found that the man died of asphyxiation due to neck and back compression.

Chauvin was fired and has been charged with unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter; he made a first appearance in a Minneapolis courtroom on Monday afternoon.

Three other police officers who were at the scene were also fired and have been charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Behind the movement to defund police forces is a belief among some activists that law-enforcement reforms – which have periodically been a focal point of debate in recent years after instances of police brutality – will not be sufficient.

“The only way we’re going to stop these endless cycles of police violence is by creating alternatives to policing. Because even in a pandemic where black people have been disproportionately killed by the coronavirus, the police are still murdering us,” Philip V. McHarris, a doctoral candidate focusing on race, housing and policing, and Thenjiwe McHarris, a strategist with the Movement for Black Lives, wrote in an opinion piece published late last month in The New York Times.

The authors said “calling 911 (the universal emergency number for people in the United States) for even the slightest thing can be a death sentence for black people” and therefore that action is not a viable option for many “marginalized communities.”

“More training or diversity among police officers won’t end police brutality, nor will firing and charging individual officers,” they said, pointing out that the Minneapolis Police Department itself had been held up as a model of progressive police reform.

Many activists and demonstrators believe that cutting police budgets and reducing the reliance on officers to resolve incidents can be the solution, arguing that funds would thereby be freed up for crime-reducing social programs.

While some are calling for a “re-imagining” of the role of law enforcement, others are directly demanding the defunding of police departments.

That rallying cry may seem like a fantasy, but it may be closer to coming to fruition than many think. On Sunday, for example, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council announced that it intends to defund and dissolve that metropolis’ police department.

Although still somewhat vague, the idea is to replace that force with a community-based public safety model, with social workers, doctors and other experts tasked with responding to different situations that previously would have been handled by the police.

The idea is catching on elsewhere, with the US’s two largest cities saying they intend to cut their police-force budgets.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last week announced plans to cut $150 million from the LA Police Department and redirect those funds to African-American and Hispanic communities.

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