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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Defunding the Police – What it Means

Rania Mankarious
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Rania Mankarious

Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston, provides perspectives on the news in this Sunday Mornings with Rania blog. 

Every day, I talk to victims who are broken, beat down and in utter despair. I also talk to law enforcement who have done everything they can to protect those victims. I turn on the TV, talk to friends, mentors and community members who express the real hurt racial injustices have truly played in their lives. I see the riots and the marches. I get the emails and the calls. I am listening as we work to bridge communities who want to live in peace and thrive - with law enforcement who want to do everything possible to make that happen.
 
Let’s start with this: George Floyd’s killing, at the hands of an officer, is the ultimate betrayal of a system meant for good in purpose and creed and the ultimate last straw for a community who has been victimized, yet silenced, for hundreds of years. The community response has been palpable and to engage requires thoughtfulness, a listening ear and the ability to walk through quicksand. Right now, as people look for answers, the “defund” or “dismantle” police rises to the top of the sound bite chain - and it’s a narrative we must pause to understand as it gains momentum.
 
So, what’s the argument? There’s a tweet currently going viral on social media (from @DavidMDaut): “I know Defund the Police: seems radical and scary but “Dissolve Police Departments Then Rebuild Them as One Small Facet in a Network of Specialized Services So Police Aren’t Called To Handle Problems They’re Woefully Ill-Equipped to Solve” isn’t as easy to chant.”
 
Many read this and scream “YES!” - this makes sense. But the argument to defund/dismantle police, especially fueled by such deep emotion, can swing the pendulum to another extreme. Minneapolis City Council recently voted to replace its police with a community-led model. The community-led model seeks to: 

  • Take money from law enforcement agencies to invest in town hall meetings, in neighborhood centers and more inner-city programs that work against gang activity and invest it after-school programs and youth counselors.
  • Remove police involvement from monitoring the homeless, resolving domestic quarrels, disciplining students, responding to outbursts by people with mental illness, swarming neighborhoods to tamp down violence and responding to nonviolent offenders. 

Many might say - Yes, let’s remove police from all the scenarios listed above. But the reality is the scenarios posted above are never clear-cut. For example:

  • You can work to mitigate gang violence but what would happen if a gang member shows up at a local school with drugs to sell, girls to traffic or disputes to avenge? 
  • You can work to mitigate homelessness but what would happen if a homeless person endangers himself or others?
  • You can work to end domestic disputes and family violence but what would happen if a disturbance turns violent or deadly? 
  • You can deal with mitigating school violence but what would happen if a student who threatens to blow up a school or carry a weapon on campus shows up ready to discharge?
  • You can work on mental-health prevention but what would happen if an individual with mental-health issues is suicidal or homicidal? 

Each of these examples given by the “defund” community may seem straightforward to navigate absent law enforcement but the real-life, unfortunate reality of each of these situations absolutely requires a trained person who can jump in and handle, without pauses or panic, situations that can escalate terribly and quickly.   
 
In the absence of police presence, crime thrives and when leaving communities to essentially maintain order, chaos can ensue. Defunding or dismantling agencies has captured the spotlight but may be shifting the focus from other solutions. Let’s instead look at how our law enforcement agencies are run; the way and length officers are trained; the use of force policies; the role of other officers on scene; red tape around discipline and removal of officers and more.

Houston is proactively working on this: 

  • City of Houston, led by Mayor Sylvester Turner in oversight of the Houston Police Department, signed an Executive Order that contains the following elements: Response to Resistance; De-escalation; Use of Deadly Force; Prohibited Techniques; No-knock Warrants; Duty to Intercede and more. The order will essentially ban chokeholds and strangleholds, require de-escalation, the giving of a warning before shooting and require other officers on scene to intervene when they recognize police brutality or a misuse of power. Read the full order here.
  • Commissioners Court, led by Judge Lina Hidalgo in oversight of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and all area constables approved 10 reform-minded items including a pledge to examine how to create a civilian oversight board with subpoena power, adopt a countywide use-of-force policy for officers and establish a database of use-of-force incidents.

 Other solutions communities across the country are asking for: 

  • Creating a “national standard” for the 18,000 law enforcement agencies around this nation.
  • Increasing, uniformly, the training hours it takes to become an officer of the law in this nation. An aspiring police officer need to be of at least 18-21 years of age and have a minimum of 2 years of college education (an associate’s degree) plus roughly six months of academy training.  
  • Reworking the multi-billion dollar budgets of major police forces in major cities like New York and Chicago.

What makes this so hard to write is that I’m a mom and every time I think of George Floyd calling for his mother, I lose it. We must move forward with solutions which requires work that goes beyond the national narrative, the politics, and the sound bites. 

George Floyd’s death - at the knee of an officer - was the ultimate betrayal. Let’s reform law enforcement agencies and practices nationally, let’s bridge the gap between people of all race, creeds and genders and let’s get busy with lasting solutions. 

Editor's note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

Read past Sunday Mornings with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at [email protected]. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter.

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