At some point, enough is enough. There are times for words, and there are times for actions. Now, more than ever, is the time for the latter. Any battle over semantics of “defund” vs. “reform” vs. “demilitarize” is so beyond petty at this point that it would be comical if it weren’t so horrifying.
Before we go any further, let me establish my background so you know the lens through which I view this issue. As a white male, I realize I’ve gone through life playing with house money thus far. Luckily, I was also raised to be sympathetic to other walks of life, unlike many of my neighbors here in Trump country. In several entanglements that I’ve had with the local business development entities, and the fact that my college is one of the most moderate/conservative in the state in terms of students, I’ve come to realize that many wear the same mask of saying all the right things publicly to get good PR, but that nothing trumps the dollar in their view. It’s the classic cliché of “I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative”, which people my age now know is just code for “I hate taxes, let the poor people fight the rest out amongst themselves”.
It is this group that helps to make up a significant portion of the media’s favorite new voting buzz word: “suburban voters”, behind only the Loch Ness monster and Obama-Trump voters on the scale of top elusive creatures we have yet to get a picture of (just kidding, they are very much real). These voters have deserted Trump and the Republicans almost as soon as the clock struck noon on inauguration day. Since then, Democrats have won a Senate seat in Alabama and a landslide 40-seat gain in the House of Representative in the 2018 midterms, all due in large part to these suburban voters.
Now the narrative on political talk shows almost always has the implied question: how are the Democrats going to lose these voters so Trump wins re-election? The fact of the matter is that if Trump’s behavior doesn’t appall you enough to crawl over broken class to go to the polls (or mailbox) in November, then not getting your vote was not the fault of the Democrats. There is a community on Reddit called “Enlightened Centrism”, and its main purpose is to point out instances of this behavior online. Essentially, they seek to dispel the notion that “well, something Nancy Pelosi said made me vote for the racist, narcissistic president! It was too much!” Nothing that a Democrat would reasonably say between now and election day will ever be more outrageous than locking kids in cages, calling white supremacists “very fine people”, withholding funds from foreign allies to get dirt on a political opponent, saying the coronavirus would go away like magic one day, or implying violence against American citizens by saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. In fact, even as I write this on the day of the Georgia primary, we are seeing Georgians waiting in excess of 7 hours to vote…in America! This, no doubt, is a dress rehearsal for the GOP in November (because they know they cannot win a fair election), all thanks to John Roberts’ Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act.
Perhaps I’m painting with too broad of a brush in claiming that these “suburban voters” are the only ones scared of the phrase “defund the police”, and maybe it does scare the moderate to moderate-liberal swath of voters as well, but I would eat this computer if it scared them that much that they’d switch their vote to Trump.
I think the true problem is the coverage of this in the media, which is disheartening since it appears to be a repeat of 2016 coverage. What I mean by this is that it seemed like they were asking if this was a bad slogan before any normal person was even paying attention. But, since they said that, it is a problem now in some people’s minds, the classic self-fulfilling prophecy.
How the media should be covering it is like Nicolle Wallace did on her MSNBC show Deadline: White House. During the segment when they discussed this, frequent guest and former New York City prosecutor Maya Wiley said it best: for the 1.1 million children in the New York City school system, there are over 5,500 police officer stationed in the schools. The amount of mental health professionals? Around 560. That is what a failed, systemically racist policing system looks like. If given the choice, I think everyone would rather prevent a fire than put one out. So, to fix this, resources need to shift from imposing punitive consequences when it is already too late (i.e. “defund”) to preventative help.
Wiley also put it in terms of simply viewing blacks as humans, citing a discrimination case filed by multiple NYPD officers. In the case, the officers allege that they were told to leave white and Asian riders alone during the crackdown on subway fares. Wiley concludes that although there is a problem with fares, more should be invested on figuring out why these groups cannot pay the fare, as opposed to, again, punitive consequences.
You can look at our policing system from any side you want, but a majority of them will show the same thing: it needs to change. It is either broken and needs fixing, or, more disturbingly, it is functioning exactly as it was intended and needs to be broken and rebuilt. From driving cars through crowds of peaceful protesters, to shoving a 75-year-old cancer patient to the ground (causing bleeding from his ears, and, more insanely, the president to tweet that he may have been an ANTIFA secret agent), to tear-gassing peaceful protesters for an (un)presidential photo op, it is clear that these peaceful protests against police brutality have exposed rampant abuses of power for the whole world to see. This, coupled with Wiley’s points about dehumanization and emphasis on punitive measures, clearly show the need for change. Call it defunding, reforming, demilitarizing, etc., it does not matter! The problem remains the same (2 + 5 is still the same as 5+2), and a debate over semantics and branding only distracts from trying to find a solution. Plus, no matter what word Democrats put in the blank in “____ the police”, the Republicans are going to say it shows we want to get rid of them completely. To put it another way, this could be a time to steer into the skid.
To my suburban voters: I’m sorry for the tough love, but the stakes are too high to argue over words. The police are not disappearing any more than a big, bad caravan coming from South America is made up of people trying to steal your job or murder you in the street. Please, do not believe for one second that there is just not going to be a police (for proof, you can check out my previous story that explains how Camden, New Jersey disbanded their police and reorganized them under the county’s supervision); you have to be smarter than that. This election, you cannot hide behind tax cuts or a 401K to justify voting for four more years of this. There is no more “socially liberal but fiscally conservative”, there is only right and wrong.
To everyone in any group: do not get distracted by this made up, useless debate. The protests are working, and the public overwhelmingly believes they are justified. This is our moment.
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