I was raised to believe that police are a necessary component of our society. If crime is an unavoidable part of human life, it made sense that there would be an armed force to combat those acts of violence. Where I grew up near Lake of the Isles, a predominantly white neighborhood, it was easy to feel protected when my peers and I were largely untouched by police. One might say that this affluent neighborhood is already living the reality of safety without policing. People here can send their drug-using children to Hazelden, hire a high-end attorney to get criminal charges dismissed or reduced, and easily pay off tickets instead of accruing ever-increasing fines and a bench warrant. There’s no need for people to work in the black-market economy, thanks to access to better funded schools, leading to higher paying “legitimate” jobs.
In places like north Minneapolis, where more shootings occur, it is not because residents are naturally more violent (a racist notion) but as a result of consistent neglect by the city and state. Crime as a public health crisis is brought into sharper relief in the age of COVID-19, which has caused so much job loss and economic desperation. It makes tragic sense that the number of homicides in the city have doubled this year while so many communities, particularly Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color languish without much of a social safety net to fall back on.
Enforcers of economic and social inequity
Police are ill equipped to mitigate the effects, not to mention the root causes, of inequality and disenfranchisement that engender this violence. Instead, they become the enforcers of perpetual economic and social inequity. For example, we have decades of evidence that police cannot end drug sales; they merely ensure that the black markets where drugs and other illegal goods are sold stay in poorer neighborhoods, where wealthy people, who use drugs at equal rates, can purchase them without having to live with the consequences.
This year, the Minneapolis Police Department budget is $193 million. We see how an increasing police budget does not necessarily reduce crime (see: the increase in homicides). If we reinvest even part of that large sum into affordable health services or housing and use other parts of the city and state budget to create good jobs, then far fewer people would need the emergency intervention (so often resulting in jail time) that police attempt to provide.
People who are pro-police and those of us who envision a world where we no longer require policing agree on a very important fact: Too heavy a burden is placed on police officers. As the Star Tribune has reported, police officers are filing disability claims for post-traumatic stress disorder at an alarming rate. If we have evidence-based plans to make communities safer in the long and short term (and we do, check out transformharm.org), we can also alleviate much of the trauma that officers endure in their posts.
Transition is a long-term project
There’s no doubt that the transition to safety beyond policing is a long-term project. MPD150, a local research and advocacy group dedicated to this work, acknowledges this. They write that the transition is “a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.” This transition can begin now, and we can measure the results. When our current methods of dealing with crime and punishment are so demonstrably harmful to large swaths of the population, we have a moral duty to start this process so that everyone in our city can be treated fairly.
For so many of us, it’s hard to wrap our minds notions of safety rooted in every person having enough resources. But in the richest country on earth in the wealthiest time in human history, it’s high time we push ourselves past our fear of the unknown and make that vision a reality. What keeps our communities safe is providing the circumstances and tools for well-being. Together we can tackle the root causes of crime. It is not utopian; it is within reach.
Emma Weinstein was born and raised in Minneapolis. Currently, she is completing a master of social work degree at the University of Michigan, after which she plans to move back home to be a part of an ever more humane and well-resourced community.
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