Is it possible to defund the police without causing crime to increase and anarchy to ensue? Certainly. Just defund the drug war.
After the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, a movement was started to defund the Minneapolis Police Department. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in 2020, the budget of the Minneapolis Police Department was $193.3 million for 892 officers and 175 civilian employees. “We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department,” said councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, the son of the former Minnesota congressman and current attorney general, Keith Ellison. “And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together. We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response,” he added. Social workers and medical personnel would take over some of the responsibilities handled by the police.
The movement to defund the police has spread like wildfire throughout the country. In New York City, where violent crime rates are up, and the New York Police Department’s annual budget is about $6 billion, the city council approved a proposal to slash the NYPD budget by a billion dollars and to redirect the money toward social programs.
The Los Angeles City council recently voted to slash its police budget by $150 million in response to protests. The council voted 12 to 2 to bring the LAPD workforce down to 9,757 officers by next summer, a staffing level not seen in the city since 2008. “Much of the $150 million cut comes from funds allocated for police overtime pay.” Not all residents were happy with the $150 million cut — because it was not large enough. “That is literally pocket change,” said L.A. resident Rebecca Kessler. “It’s a slap in the face. You need to defund the police, take way more money, put way more money into these programs.”
Whether police departments should be defunded because they are guilty of systemic racism is something that can be debated for years to come. What is incontrovertible is that “qualified immunity” for the increasingly militarized police has rigged the system in favor of the police and against the citizen. According to constitutional attorney and prolific chronicler of the police state John Whitehead “qualified immunity” allows the police to:
- strip-search anyone at the jail house regardless of the severity of the offense
- strip-search motorists on the side of the road
- conduct warrantless searches of residences
- use excessive force against protesters
- shoot fleeing suspects in the back
- pepper spray and shoot the mentally ill
- use lethal force in car chases
- stop, arrest, and search citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause
- stop cars on the basis of “anonymous” tips or for “suspicious” behavior, no matter how dubious
- forcibly take your DNA, whether or not you’ve been convicted of a crime
- use the “fear for my life” rationale as an excuse for shooting unarmed persons
- use drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops
- recklessly open fire on anyone who might be “armed”
- destroy a home during a SWAT raid, even if the owner gives his consent to enter and search it
- suffocate someone, deliberately or inadvertently, in the process of subduing him
And these are the things that Mr. Whitehead documents in just one recent article.
A great many of the injustices perpetrated by the police are directly or indirectly related to the government war on freedom known as the war on drugs.
Police made 663,367 arrests for marijuana-related violations in 2018. That total is more than 21 percent higher than the total number of persons arrested for the commission of violent crimes (521,103). Of those arrested for marijuana crimes, some 90 percent (608,776) were arrested for marijuana possession offenses only.
According to NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri,
Police across America make a marijuana-related arrest every 48 seconds. At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans want cannabis to be legal and regulated, it is an outrage that many police departments across the country continue to waste tax dollars and limited law enforcement resources on arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens for simple marijuana possession.
This is the third consecutive year of increases in the number of Americans arrested for violating marijuana laws. And the remarkable thing about the increases is that it has happened at the same time that more states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. So even though limited decriminalization has resulted in a decline in marijuana-related arrests in those jurisdictions, marijuana arrests have still increased overall.
Thirty-three states have legalized the medical use of marijuana. Eleven states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. The full or partial decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana has occurred in many states and localities. And yet, marijuana arrests are still up.
God only knows how much time that police departments, police officers, sheriff departments, and deputies waste fighting the drug war — and especially the war on marijuana. The drug war has militarized police departments. It has corrupted law enforcement. It has turned vices into crimes. It has clogged the judicial system. It has unnecessarily swelled prison populations. It has made criminals out of otherwise law-abiding Americans.
It is the drug war that needs to be defunded. It is primarily state and local governments that carry out the drug war. Even if — on the federal level — all drug laws were repealed, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was abolished, the FBI no longer went after drug dealers and traffickers, and the drug czar was fired, there would still be a state and local drug war. But once drug policy was entirely left up to the states — as it should be, since the federal government has no authority under the Constitution to have anything to do with drugs — it would be much easier for states to repeal their drug laws and defund their drug wars. All state agencies, and programs in any way responsible for carrying out the drug war should be eliminated, and their bureaucrats and agents fired.
The police could be defunded and the safety of cities and communities maintained if the drug war was defunded.