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What ‘defund the police’ actually means

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The killing of George Floyd has sparked a defining moment for the United States.  These past weeks have held up a giant mirror to the nation that reflects decades of unattended and dangerously infected racial wounds. 

Through the years, we have tried to mask these wounds with Band-Aids. But current events have ripped the bandages off to expose the cancer of racial injustice that continues to metastasize.  

As a result, we are facing a national reckoning. Black Lives Matter has become the movement that can lead to real change and meaningful reform that can help to heal the country’s exposed wounds. 

“Defund the police” has become a clarion call for many who are fed up with platitudes and inaction.

We should acknowledge, however, that the words “defund the police” are unhelpful in getting bipartisan support for policies that will make a difference in combating systemic racism. 

Those who seek real reform should make clear what we are fighting for. Defunding the police does not mean abolishing law enforcement, police officers or policing. That makes no sense. 

Perhaps a better term would be: “Redefine police.”

Redefining police means cities must take a whole new look at the way policing is done and how department budgets are determined; it means ensuring that resources go to professional training, community policing, cultural competency training and complete transparency of police officers’ past conduct and records. 

It also means that the policies guiding the departments put a stop to police brutality and abuse, hold police officers accountable for their conduct and ensure that they protect and serve all communities equally. 

Advocates for change are demanding a redefining of what policing looks like and that city budgets prioritize community initiatives for mental health, youth programs, social services and services for the homeless. 

Black Lives Matter’s website, under “Defund the Police,” calls for “an end to the systemic racism that allows this culture of corruption to go unchecked and our lives to be taken.” There is no question that this needs to be the goal.

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020, introduced by Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), lays out the principles that seek to end the discriminatory practices that too many police officers have engaged in against people of color, many times to tragic ends, and for which they faced no accountability. 

The bill would also ban chokeholds, create a misconduct registry and mandate training  against racial profiling. 

In sync with what advocates are asking for, the bill also “establishes public safety innovation grants for community-based organizations to create local commissions and task forces to help communities to re-imagine and develop concrete, just and equitable public safety approaches.” These local commissions would take up many of the recommendations in President Obama’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Sadly, President Trump and many other Republicans are using calls to defund the police as an excuse to paint Democrats as weak on crime and as advocating lawlessness. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

We need to focus on the goals that we all agree on. Systemic racism has plagued America’s law enforcement since its founding, and it needs to be rooted out. 

Republicans should stop playing politics and continuing to cover up the roots of the problem by focusing on the few rioters amid the peaceful protestors who took to the streets after Floyd’s death. They need to join with Democrats and focus on the change the country needs and wants. 

New polls indicate that Americans have shifted on the issue of racial inequities in law enforcement. An overwhelming majority of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, agree with the necessity of making changes to our law enforcement system in order to address the inequitable racial treatment of the communities they are sworn to serve and protect.

If Trump and congressional Republicans continue to try to divide the country on this critical issue and attempt to decontextualize the desperate and rage-filled cries for change, voters will elect a leader who understands and rises to this historic moment.

Words are cheap; actions speak volumes. It is time to make the promise of “liberty and justice for all” a reality for all Americans. 

Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and co-chair of the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws committee for the party’s 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.

Tags Black Lives Matter Cory Booker Crime prevention death of George Floyd Donald Trump Jerry Nadler Karen Bass killing of George Floyd Law enforcement police brutality Race and crime in the United States race and society

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