Conservatives are upset because Black Lives Matter demonstrators have been demanding, “Defund the police.” Conservatives hate it when outsiders intrude on their space by calling for cuts in government spending.
Of course, right-wingers wouldn’t be nearly as upset if agitators (none of them wearing masks) took to the streets chanting “Defund the schools,” “Defund welfare” or “Defund Gov. Janet Mills.” But defunding the cops is one bit of budget-slashing they won’t tolerate.
To give the reactionaries a little credit, “Defund the police” is a crappy slogan. Like Joe Biden’s “No Malarkey” or Melania Trump’s “Be Best,” it’s difficult to figure out exactly what it signifies.
Some advocates of police defunding say it means transferring money and responsibilities for societal problems currently assigned to the cops to other agencies better suited to deal with them. Issues like mental health, domestic violence, substance abuse, and people sleeping in the Wendy’s drive-thru should be handled by skilled workers in those fields, leaving the 5-0 free to deal with serious crimes.
But other DTP supporters claim it means just what it says: Get rid of the fuzz and let a revamped society breathe freely.
So, it’s confusing. Alternative A would likely cost more money, at least in the short term, and wouldn’t necessarily fix the underlying problems. Alternative B would work for about six seconds, after which we’d have chaos.
Police misconduct must be addressed, but in doing so we need to recognize that it’s merely a symptom of the real disease. Law enforcement didn’t become a deadly institution for certain of our citizens without the consent – or indifference – of society as a whole.
There’s a nasty term for that: racism.
Yeah, I know. You’re not a racist. You just don’t like looters or thugs or antifa or the scum who take a knee during the national anthem. It’s not your fault a lot of those creeps are black. The way they behave it’s no wonder Portland police arrest them at more than twice the rate their percentage of the population would seem to indicate. It’s their own responsibility if Maine statistics show they’re three times more likely to test positive for coronavirus than upstanding white folks. They must be doing something wrong if they’re the first to be laid off and the last to be rehired.
None of that could possibly be caused by racism. More likely it’s statistical anomalies. Sure, that makes perfect sense.
If by perfect, you mean white.
You can defund the police, destroy Confederate statues and de-pant Portland City Manager John Jennings, but none of that really gets at the core problem. A smaller police force will still kneel on black men’s throats. A public square with an empty pedestal won’t convey any useful message. And the sight of Jennings running down Congress Street clad only in his boxer shorts adds nothing to the discussion, except some mild entertainment value.
To solve the problem, we first have to acknowledge the problem exists. But Mainers seem reluctant to admit the truth.
When public officials in Hancock County and Brewer were caught posting racist memes on Facebook, they claimed their accounts were hacked. When a school superintendent in Kennebunk was discovered to have downplayed racist behavior in the classroom and ignored its impact on a minority teacher, she got a cushy job in the state university system. When a Boston newspaper reported that racial incidents at an Auburn high school “have become commonplace,” local education officials brushed it off, telling the Lewiston Sun Journal they run “safe and respectful” institutions for everybody. When every Republican candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat made disparaging remarks about immigrants but suffered no political consequences, there’s a serious disconnect somewhere.
As slogans go, “Pretend it’s OK” is far stupider than “Defund the police.” But neither of them gets us closer to solving the institutionalized problem of Maine’s racism. To do that, we need more openness, more honesty, more common sense.
Then, we need more action.
If you think this column should be defunded, you should talk to the publisher. Otherwise, email me at [email protected].