The Power of Those 3 Words

Day after day, week after week, in thousands of communities across America, people have taken to the streets demonstrating against police brutality and systemic racism in our society. The people are black, brown and white. The demonstrations vary from day to day and from place to place. But at just about every one of them, six words are heard. Three of them are Black Lives Matter. The other three are Defund the Police.

Not long ago, white people cringed at the sound of Black Lives Matter. Some feebly insisted that All Lives Matter. Others defiantly proclaimed that Blue Lives Matter. Somewhere along the line most whites grew comfortable with hearing and saying Black Lives Matter. I guess that’s a sign of some progress.

Defund the Police is what gives whites indigestion today. That’s a measure of how provocative those three words are, and it’s precisely what’s needed. Change requires discomfort. Comfortable people don’t move.

Defunding the police means different things to different people. And that’s OK, because all the different meanings provide the needed ingredients for the uncomfortable conversations about systemic racism in our society and the role policing plays in perpetuating racial injustice that are so desperately needed if corresponding actions are ever going to be taken.

To me, defund means reimagine. It means reimagining public safety and aggressively questioning whether militarizing the police and criminalizing mental health challenges made us any safer. It means questioning with equal vigor whether fighting a so-called war on drugs and filling prisons with nonviolent offenders who happen to be mostly black or brown makes communities any more secure. It means giving blunt answers to those questions. No, we’re not safer, we’re not more secure. We’re just staying segregated and cementing in place age-old injustices.

To me, defund means replace. It means replacing those militarized police forces with community guardians whose mission truly is to protect and serve rather than intimidate and control. It means social workers or mental health professionals or crisis intervention specialists respond first to conflicts in the community or threats to public safety instead of armed officers. It means reallocating financial resources so we spend more to create opportunity and promote economic and social justice and spend less on enforcing order.

So yes, defund the police. If that makes you cringe, good. Things gotta change. Change requires discomfort. Comfortable people don’t move.

Mike McCabe

July 1, 2020