All over social media I’ve seen several different videos of police brutality over this past week – sometimes it was fatal, other times not, but each and every time, like clockwork, the victims were Black or Latino, and the violence was completely unnecessary.
Here in New York, on our subways this past week, we’ve had several horrible cases of police violence, and people are fed up over it. You can’t blame Republicans for this. Democrats control every single facet of New York from top to bottom and have the power to not only hold police accountable, but to change the root causes for the problems once and for all.
And for just a few minutes this morning, I want to propose what I think has to be one of our top solutions to police violence in this country.
A few years ago, I wrote a 25 part series on how we solve the crisis of police violence in America, but if I had to only name 5 ways to drastically reduce police violence, what I’m about to say would be one of the things that makes the cut.
We have too many police officers. Way too many. I don’t mean hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands. We have at least half a million more police officers than we actually need. And here’s what I know, and I see it not only right here in New York, but I see it all over the country. Over the past 5 years I’ve traveled to 45 different states studying police brutality.
It’s a math problem. We have too many police. In the 80s and 90s, everybody was swearing that when you want safer cities and safer neighborhoods, that the way to get that was with more police, but it’s just not true. It’s how you build mass incarceration. It’s how you build the prison industrial complex. It’s how you create a crisis of police violence.
But if you study the safest zip codes in this country, guess what, they hardly even have police in those zip codes. I’ve started studying the safest cities in the United States and they routinely have some of the smallest police departments.
10 years ago, when my family moved from Atlanta to Southern California, we lived in Irvine, California, which, at the time, was listed as the safest city in the country at the time. And when I first moved there, I went a week without seeing a police car, then 2 weeks, then a month, then two months. I lived in Irvine, California for months before I finally saw the first police car, and even then it was just sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store.
The city hardly had police. They weren’t giving speeding tickets. Nothing. And it wasn’t because people there were perfect. Our oldest daughter went to high school there and the first day she came home she was shocked at how many students were openly selling and sharing drugs, but guess what, in Irvine, California, they don’t arrest kids for drugs, they send them to treatment.
Think of the safest areas of your city? Are they swarmed with police officers? Nah – the safer the zip code, the fewer the police.
Instead of spending tens of billions of dollars on police, spend that money on social services, spend that money on drug rehab, job placement, spend that money on mental health services, spend it on homelessness intervention.
Some cities are now spending the single largest percentage of their budget on policing when they should be spending it on education and social services.
And here’s what I see – for decades, cities like New York had a program called Stop & Frisk, where they legally stopped anybody they wanted and searched them. They did this millions of times. Well now it’s illegal. But we have the same number of police. Why?
In some states, police used to make hundreds of thousands of arrests for weed, but now it’s not illegal. Why do we still have the same size police force if they are no longer making those arrests?
Why? Because these police departments are simply going to find something to arrest people for. No matter what. But every time we decriminalize something, we need to see that police force get smaller and smaller as well.
As long as we have millions of police officers, this country will always operate like a brutal police state. Cities need to allocate those very limited resources differently. And we need to look at what actually makes the safest zip codes safe.
It’s not police. It’s something altogether different. But they want to define safety for us as more police while they define safety for themselves as prosperity, jobs, housing, good schools, and so much more.
I’ve gotta run, but we need a movement to defund police departments and use those resources in better, smarter ways.