I refuse to believe that my support of the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement makes me a Marxist, and that it requires that I oppose the police.
I am also equally supportive of the police, and I do not assume that they all are racists who want to kill people of color.
Both groups, Black Lives Matter and the police, need our support now!
We need to strongly resist the temptation to label either group based on the actions of small minorities in those groups. After all, haven’t we all belonged to groups with a few bad apples?
If we white people in charge of the government are free of personal guilt about how we now treat people of color, then we should be able to take the next step and examine systemic racism in our society. Can we finally fix up the bad schools? Can we attract to inner cities supermarkets with attached banking and health services, as Shop Rite has done in Minneapolis? Can we hold slumlords responsible for fixing up our rental homes, and can we clean up the pollution in rural communities and city water supplies? Can we fix health insurance? How about zoning discrimination, gerrymandering, minority incarcerations? These are among the issues for the BLM movement.
The police in both Chicago and Minneapolis have reported that the violence in their cities has been committed by local gangs taking advantage of the protest marches, and was not done by the protesters. They also reminded us of how many inmates had just been released from lockup to lessen the spread of COVID in the jails and prisons. These marches are still vulnerable to people joining them for the purpose of causing havoc. Also, statistics in Massachusetts do not show an increase in COVID following the protests here, probably because the protesters all wore masks.
There are many factors which affect public safety. Not funding certain agencies adequately has led to police being expected to do too many jobs. In addition to dealing with dangerous criminals and preventing crime, they have to be social workers and substance abuse counselors and marital therapists and emergency medical personnel.
If police can join with local community leaders and health and social service agencies, which also provide public safety services, if we agree to spend more money on these services, we can lessen the need for police to handle the social problems where there is no criminal intent. We can lessen the many jobs police have, and thereby lessen the overall number of police we need. Since crime is clearly related to poverty, we might even lessen crime if we can achieve some of BLM’s goals.
A more streamlined police department’s budget has thus been “defunded,” with their budgets lowered enough to allow them continued superior control over crime, but the rest going for increased social services. It is not about lessening the total amount spent on public safety, but on expanding the multi-agency options we have to maintain public safety. It’s a budget policy change worth discussing, and it surely isn’t going to happen overnight. Do not let false ads panic you. Instead be part of the discussions.
Reexamining our police budgets can also draw attention to the needs for police to have more bulletproof vests and videocams, and for increased training in deescalating techniques. What gun laws would make their jobs safer?
I do think the proposed state changes in policing will help the police. Good cops don’t want to work with bad cops. Those who are bullies, belligerent, or too temperamental, or on steroids, make the job much more dangerous. In fact, none of us want to work with people like that.
But police and corrections staff work in dangerous settings and have to rely on their partners for their safety, and this puts pressure on them to instinctively protect all their brothers and sisters in uniform. Hopefully the new regulations will make it easier for them over time to report the bad cops in their groups, and easier for them to stay more focused mainly on criminals.
Joan B. Eccleston, MD
Barlows Landing Road