today in black history

July 17, 2024

The Port Chicago incident occurred in 1944 when Black Navy ammunition handlers were killed in a violent explosion at the California base.

Defund the Police

POSTED: June 14, 2020, 12:00 pm

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Black people have been conditioned to be ‘nice’ and not offend when it comes to demanding justice. We are expected to march peacefully and chant quietly, and to avoid disrupting the status quo. Our grievances are only deemed acceptable when Whites in authority label them valid and when the American public does not feel threatened. That is why the protests and demonstrations in the wake of the police killing George Floyd feels different. The reaction seeks no permission in its anger and refuses to conform with respectability politics. This uprising is raw and refreshing. And absolutely necessary.

As was the case of social movements of the past, the ‘language’ of the uprising causes great concern among White allies who profess to have our interests at heart, but who cannot detach themselves from the privilege of the status quo. There is always concern about the impact of language upon electoral outcomes or whether it will cause greater division. We should know by now that Black liberation cannot wait upon a political system that consistently fails Black people. Just as we know that whatever divisions exist in America, will continue to exist until that day Black people are unapologetic about their demand for human rights. At the apex of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X’s cry of the ‘ballot or the bullet’ was considered too radical for America. Malcom’s words were considered too dangerous. Yet, his pacifist brother, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was also judged too radical when he attacked militarism and called for the defunding of the Vietnam War. King took on the nation’s power structure the year before a presidential election, unconcerned about how his stance might impact the coming presidential election. The civil rights leader was well aware that the eventual Democratic nominee would need the support of the Black electorate to win. He came to understand that there was never any middle ground for acceptability by Whites when Blacks challenged systemic racism. Perhaps that is why Stokely Carmichael and young activists came to embrace ‘Black Power’ as a rallying cry because White power was never going to concede the humanity of Black people.

Now, we are hearing the cry to ‘defund the police’ and we are being cautioned that it is too radical an expression that will sow division and is not based on reality. Funny thing about reality in America. It is always shaped by the oppressor and hoisted upon the backs of the oppressed. The reality of policing in this nation is that it is an instrument of violence meant to control, oppress, and suppress the poor, and Black and brown people. It was never designed to be a conduit for public safety. Its intentions were clear from the start – protect property and capital. The violence that comes with it is a means to intimidate and frighten ‘the least of these’ into submission.

We have been conditioned to believe that force is necessary to achieve civility. Yet, we have never attempted to implement strict gun control and seizure of weapons. We have never attempted to amend the 2nd Amendment and restrict gun ownership to military personnel and limit personal gun ownership to licensed hunters. Nor have we outlawed the manufacture of guns. We have attempted to reform a system that appears unredeemable. Our answer has been to meet encouraged force with greater force, and Black people always end up bearing the burden for this madness. Through popular culture we are socialized to accept the police as a necessary evil. Go back as far as the 1950s and television programs such as ‘Highway Patrol’ and the 1960s ‘The FBI,’ and ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and the 70’s ‘SWAT’ and “ADAM-12’ and it is clear that the police-industry is a well oiled machine lionized for its efficiency and deadliness.

We need to separate policing from public safety. We do not need policing as currently constructed. It should be defunded. What we need is a public safety system that addresses mental health needs and reduces interaction with police to instances when human life is threatened. We need investments in education, an area that the nation consistently defunds, that will create a more enlightened citizenry. If we attack income inequality we reduce the appetite for material possessions that are paraded in front of people who have no means to afford what society equates with human value. Technology exists that can manage traffic violations and apprehend offenders. Peace officers should be assigned to communities and trained in conflict resolution with non-lethal methods. Public safety must be transformed and embrace the principle of ‘policing by consent’ or ‘Peelian Principles’ associated with the history of unarmed London police or ‘bobbies.’ It is time to walk away from the hyper-aggressive model of policing that has sacrificed the lives of too many Black people.

I will continue to support the ‘defund’ movement with no reservation and no concern how that language plays out in the political sphere. We cannot accept the status quo as humane or effective. Policing as we know it must be abolished.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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