June 3, 2020 11:00:08 AM
In 2015, former Columbus police officer Canyon Boykin killed Ricky Ball, a 26-year-old black man. Last week Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch dropped the manslaughter charges brought against Boykin. This was just days after the brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In a viral video, Floyd repeatedly exclaims "I can't breathe" as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneels on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Protests are erupting across America in response demanding that charges are brought against all four officers who were involved in the killing. As we see with the investigation of Ricky Ball's death in Mississippi, charges can be dropped. And statistics show that convictions of officers involved in police shootings are rare. We must ask ourselves, how do we stop police killings of black people before they happen? Three words: Defund the police.
In 2016, the Columbus City Council allocated $12 million, or 50% of the general expenditures, to public safety which includes the police and fire departments. A majority of this funding is used for law enforcement salaries, police trainings, and better equipment like body cameras that are to be on during traffic stops and arrests. But these funded trainings and equipment did not lead to a safer Columbus. Data from the last eight years shows that crime was at its highest in Columbus during 2016. This means that more police officers with "better training and better equipment" did not decrease crime. Crime is a response to social conditions. More policing cannot fix social conditions, only investments in communities can.
In the same year, Columbus City Council only allocated roughly $1 million, or 4% of its general expenditures, to "culture and recreation" and "urban and economic development." This is an underinvestment in community-based programs that support low-income communities. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, sociologists at New York University discovered that "in a city of 100,000 people, each new non-profit community organization lead to a 1.2% drop in the homicide rate, a 1% decrease in violent crime rate, and 0.7% reduction in property crime rate." This means that expanding social and economic programs for under-resourced communities led to an overall decrease in crime. More resources for mental health services, substance abuse, educational programming, food & assistance programs, and workforce development are needed in Columbus. The city council should follow the lead of other cities.
In Austin, Texas, the Austin Justice Coalition pressured the city council to cut the police department's budget in half. In Durham, North Carolina, the work of activists resulted in a hiring freeze for police officers during the 2019 fiscal year. And due to the COVID-19 pandemic decreasing crime and the need for police in New York City, the New York Police Department has received demands to cut its budget by $1 billion over the next four years. This divestment is necessary for the safety of citizens like Ricky Ball and George Floyd. Fewer police officers means fewer police interactions like unnecessary traffic stops resulting in the shooting and killing of black people.
Why divestment and not more police trainings? Trained police officers kill black people. And even if they are wrongful killings, convictions of police officers involved in shooting deaths are rare. According to Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University professor of criminal justice, from 2005 to 2017 eighty officers were charged with murder and manslaughter for on-duty shootings. Only 35% of those officers were convicted. The officers involved in the deaths of Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, and Terrence Crutcher were acquitted or had the charges brought against them dropped. The officers involved in the deaths of Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown were never charged. And most recently, the Mississippi Attorney General dropped the charges against Officer Boykin who killed Ricky Ball. The City of Columbus even reached a settlement with Officer Boykin for wrongful termination. This means he killed Ball, received a lump sum of money, and now walks free.
We do not need more police. We do not need more surveillance and more patrol. We do not need better police technology and more community-police partnerships. We do not need more reactive responses to black death like charges that rarely lead to convictions. We need to divest from police & invest in community. This means we should not only stop police killings but guarantee life and opportunities to flourish. We need more funding for economic programming and community development. We need more funding for educational programs. We need more funding for social services that help victims of poverty and violence. We must prioritize the people over the police. Perhaps, in a world with fewer police George Floyd and Ricky Ball would still be here.
Justin Brooks is a native of Starkville and a second-year law student at UC Berkeley.
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