Faced With a False Dilemma

Black and white photo of a protester holding a sign that reads “DEFUND THE POLICE.” The protester is seen from behind and has dark skin and is wearing a baseball cap and a facemask.

By Bruce Knotts

This post was originally sent out on July 23 via a monthly email message from Director Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations. Subscribe to the UU@UN email list.

We are faced with what looks like a dilemma but isn’t really.

Calls to defund and demilitarize police forces are increasingly prominent in police reform conversations. Meanwhile, we are also seeing are rising violent crime rates.

Some argue that in order to address the rising crime and gun violence in neighborhoods, we must increase funding for police departments and equip them with even higher-powered weapons to match those on the streets.

I disagree. We need to look at the reality of policing. For decades, the United States has militarized its police forces, training them with a warrior mentality, in response to an increasingly militarized population. And yet violent crime persists.

What can we do to address the root causes of this violence? We need to solve these issues collaboratively through systemic solutions that address the needs of affected communities—rather than through militarized repression and control.

When I hear people get upset by the phrase “defund the police,” I point out that the U.S. has been defunding education for years, with little outrage in response.

I believe we need to take funding from police budgets and reallocate those funds for social work, education, jobs, and other ways to prevent crime and gun violence.

Last week U.S. President Biden hosted a meeting of mayors to talk about rising crime rates and gun violence. During that meeting, he championed investing in police departments, as well as creating community-based programs, as a solution to restore trust and prevent violence.

Biden doesn’t necessarily have the right view in this case. (Remember, he was an architect of mass incarceration.) Biden’s ideas on community policing are good. However, “investing in police departments” seems out of touch amid a more urgent need to invest in housing, community services, and poverty alleviation.

The police should have the funding that is appropriate to prevent and solve crimes. Funds not needed for this purpose should be diverted to fund social services and improvements to public life (parks, libraries, daycares, and recreational centers) that build community safety and resilience.

I have concentrated on U.S. policing in this message, but this problem is global. In the news, we are seeing peaceful protestors met with armed and aggressive police forces in Cuba, Belarus, the Philippines, Brazil, Hong Kong, Nigeria, and many other parts of the world—again, a militarized solution to social problems.

Local communities should decide what the role of police is. Remove all the military equipment and the training used for war. Ensure that the police are part of the community.

Any time funds get shifted there will be anxiety. Doing nothing but perpetuating the status quo cannot be an option either.

The current system is immoral and it contributes to the demolition of democracy and community. To ensure domestic tranquility, we need community policing that is non-violent and that protects and serves the vulnerable and victimized.

We need policing that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Otherwise, it is a tool of power and oppression.


P.S. Our UUA Office at the UN hosted a webinar last week on the topic of police demilitarization. We encourage you to learn more and watch the recording.

The UUA Office at the United Nations is supported by the generosity of individuals like you. Donate now.

About the Author

Bruce Knotts

Bruce Knotts is the Director of the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations. He was born and raised in Southern California. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Pepperdine University and his Master’s Degree in International Education from the Monterey Institute of...

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