Soulful Leadership in Public Safety, Part II: Defund the Police

Photo Credit: “File:Defund the police.jpg” by Taymaz Valley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Defund the police,” one of the rallying cries of protests a year ago after the police killing of George Floyd and other black men and women, has gained traction. Currently, over 20 U.S. cities have reduced their police budgets by some amount.

While last week’s conviction in Minneapolis of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has given some hope of justice, six police killings occurred within 24 hours after the verdict. Since Chauvin’s trial started on March 29, more than 64 people have died at the hands of police nationwide, including an unarmed Latino 13-year-old, Adam Toledo, in Chicago. Blacks and Latinos represent more than half of those killed.

Furthermore, Daunte Wright, an unarmed black man, had been killed by police in Minneapolis amid the trial.

Clearly, the police system is still badly broken.

What might “defund the police” look like? Who has shown wise, soulful leadership in this arena?

In many cases, moving funding from police forces to addressing needs in the community has been tried as a tactic to reduce crime. Money formerly used to fund the police has now been reinvested into ways that support the community, such as housing for the homeless, workforce development initiatives, and programs helping people to deal with substance abuse. In addition, some cities are handling crimes and emergencies in a new way –for instance, by calling on mental health professionals to respond to certain emergencies or by expanding the forensics labs necessary to properly investigate sexual assault cases.

In addition, restorative justice, an alternative to the dominant punitive justice system, has proven effective in reducing recidivism and increasing public safety.

While it is too soon to tell how effective some of the newer experiments will be, it is heartening that a number of cities are willing to try new approaches to public safety. It is clear that much work is still needed to re-envision the American justice system. From fighting for racial justice, eliminating police brutality, and ensuring police accountability to reducing the need for policing by improving methods of rehabilitation, we need to deeply reflect on and restructure our responses to public safety. The changes needed to re-create the structures that have been in place for so long are complex and daunting. They require new visions. They require strong leadership. Let us listen to the voices of those who call us to bold experimentation and together let us discern a way through the challenges we face to create a society where all members can feel safe.

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