The ‘defund the police’ debate is being warped by a false choice

John N. Robinson III, assistant professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences


As a teenager, staring into the barrel of a police officer’s rifle, I learned an important life lesson: The police are not here so that I — a Black man — can feel safe and protected. Quite the opposite, actually.

That lesson returns to mind at the close of a roiling summer, bookended by protests over the killing of George Floyd and the recent announcement that no officers will be charged for Breonna Taylor’s killing. A once unthinkable question is suddenly a campaign issue. What would it mean to “defund the police”? This rallying cry has admittedly lost volume since it first made headlines in late May. Coverage of a recent Gallup poll, for example, mostly highlights the finding that more than 80 percent of Black respondents want either the same or more police presence in their communities. The findings prompted claims that Democrats are ignoring warnings from Black people about the folly of defunding the police.

But another view is that public dialogue on police brutality presents and normalizes a false choice: where people can either accept policing as we know it or surrender to becoming the likely victims of crime. Justice or safety: Choose one. This narrative misrepresents the data itself.

Read the full piece in the Boston Globe.

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