Reform, Defunding, Abolition: Let’s Rebrand the Police: Why Reform Is the Most Promising Solution to the Problem of Police Brutality
The death of George Floyd at the hands of officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparked widespread protest and unrest across the country.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sparked widespread protest and unrest across the country. From coast to coast, shouts rang out demanding change in the treatment of minorities under the American policing system. From these protests, three major schools of thought emerged: defunding, abolishing, and reforming the police. While each of these ideas has some merit, I believe that a simple change in the way American policing operates alone will not substantiate real change. In reality, a change in public perception—a rebranding of your average neighborhood officer—is needed.
As a young black man in America, I fear the ones tasked with keeping me safe. I vividly recall the night that Trayvon Martin’s face was plastered all over the news—a face that looked like mine. Learning that Trayvon hadn’t been killed by a freak car accident or chronic disease, but by a police officer, created a permanent association in my mind that police officers are bad. When twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot in Chicago for playing with a toy gun, the broad stereotype I’d painted over police officers was reinforced. I felt that all cops were monsters, operating with the sole intent of hurting people like me.
I found myself asking the kids in my predominantly white suburban neighborhood if they shared my sense of apprehension. “No!” they would say, looking confused and almost offended. “Police officers are cool! They stop the bad guys!” I would walk away perplexed, trying to think of some rational reason to admire police officers. The difference between these two ways of thinking is certainly a stark one, and it is indisputable that this is a product of the contentious race relations in the United States.
Reformation is the key to fixing the fundamental problems with policing in America. In essence, policing is based on public trust. It only works as long as officers retain public trust. Take Camden, New Jersey, as an example. As recently as seven years ago, the city was widely considered America’s most dangerous municipality, with crime rates akin to those of Honduras. When increased police presence did nothing to prevent crime, it seemed there was no way out for Camden: that is, until it rebranded its force. It was this rebranding that ultimately allowed the Camden police to better serve its community.
Between 2013 and 2017, the Camden Police Department underwent a makeover of sorts. There were changes in training and culture within the police force. To improve public relations, they began hosting community get-togethers and other such events. To regain public trust, rather than wrongfully arresting and excessively sentencing young black teens for minor offenses, they became mentors and father-figures that black men could look to in times of need. Police officers in Camden went from stormtrooper-esque enforcers of systemically racist laws to neighbors who wished to do nothing but keep their fellow Camdenians safe. By reforming internally and working to improve public perception, police were able to transform Camden.
The two other schools of thought, abolition and defunding, are not effective ways of stopping police brutality. In theory, defunding is a prudent option. However, without significantly increasing public trust in their protectors, these changes would be futile. Similarly, abolition would be rendered ineffective because the sphere of public opinion would most likely not trust the governing force instated in the vacuum following the complete removal of policing.
The police officers in America have lost my trust. There is no way that I can put my faith in a force that actively targets and kills my people. I do not want to see a complete removal of police: this would do nothing but cause chaos. I do not want to see police funding reduced to pocket change: this would do nothing but lessen the efficacy of law enforcement.
Reform and rebranding—a mental switch in the way the department was viewed—is what fixed Camden. I strongly believe that rebranding is the most promising solution. I would certainly feel much safer in my community if I saw a protector whenever I saw an officer, not a murderer. An enforcer of the law, not a faceless villain out to get me just because of the color of my skin. Until the day that I and my brothers and sisters of all ethnicities, races, creeds, and cultures can look upon the ones sworn to protect and serve our communities with respect, dignity, and admiration, America’s policing will remain a problem.