I want to propose something for the communities of Galveston County to consider: We don’t need more police. And we don’t need better police. What we need are better and more varied ways to address the problems that police have for far too long been called upon to solve — and for equally as long have failed.
If I’m bipolar, schizophrenic, suicidal or otherwise mentally ill, I don’t need anyone with a gun or a badge to talk me off a ledge. What I need is a mental health professional.
If I’m homeless, I don’t need to be arrested, jailed or paraded through the streets on a rope by mounted officers. What I need is food, shelter and a living wage. If I have a problem with drug abuse, what I need isn’t a prison cell, where violence begets violence and recidivism rates exceed 80 percent, but a program for non-coercive treatment and rehabilitation.
I want to underscore that the function of the police, even at their best, isn’t to solve social problems, but to disappear the people who have them — and it’s no coincidence that a disproportionate number of these people must also bear the burden of being black in a world where blackness doesn’t connote the need to be cared for, but the need to be coerced and contained.
So, instead of advocating for better training or increased diversity, what I propose is this:
Decrease the risk of police violence and interpersonal harm simultaneously by investing in care rather than cops. This would mean moving funds away from police departments toward education (teachers and counselors in particular), housing and health care infrastructure — including non-coercive mental health care, wellness resources, neighborhood-based trauma centers, non-coercive drug and alcohol treatment programming, peer support networks and training for health care professionals.
I should emphasize that this approach is neither unfounded nor unprecedented. In fact, it’s already being considered and implemented in cities across the country. What’s unfounded, however, is the notion that reforms requiring cities to pour more resources into police departments will one day bring an end to police violence.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Mariame Kaba documents a long history of investigations into police misconduct and all-too familiar recommendations for reform, from review boards to implicit-bias training. Offering George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis as a prime example, she emphasizes that neither the commissions nor the reforms have halted the violence.
Following Angela Davis, I suggest we recognize that the history of the police is a history of reform. Demands to stop police violence will always exceed the purview of what the police are designed to do.
It is for this reason that I want to encourage our communities to imagine “justice” otherwise. It is for this reason that I echo the demands of organizers across the country engaged in sustained struggle against the conditions that make black death possible: “Invest in care, not cops.”