A friend asked why phone bank organizers have been encountering liberal suburbanites who are concerned about the ‘defund the police’ movement. Why? Branding! Republicans are particularly good at it, and Democrats are stunningly bad at it. The de- prefix connotes removal and privation. They should use a re- prefix for the “again” connotation instead — reimagine, renovate, even restructure. It’s more difficult to come out against a positive-sounding slogan (think of the difficulty the BLM opponents have). I can explain why the death tax was a good thing, but I’d have to get someone to sit for ten minutes and listen to me. Someone advocating removing inheritance taxes just needs to yell “death tax” really loud. Saying ‘defund the police’ lets someone else say ‘save the police’.
And that encounters a problem of personal perception. There are a lot of people who are lucky enough to only encounter police as helpful public servants (or at least the pleasant/helpful experiences far outweigh the unpleasant one, creating the ‘few bad apples’ argument). Directing traffic when a tree fell across half of the road, cruising by when I was the only car in a park on Tuesday afternoon then letting me borrow a phone because I’d locked myself out of my car and my phone in it, coordinating the effort to return runaway cows to their field while the owner was on holiday, double-checking that my car seat was installed securely, getting in touch with the local business owner whose music was still blasting at 2AM because the employee cranked the outdoor sound system for closing tasks and forgot to shut it off when they left, providing road condition updates in the winter, letting me stop by and ask questions about the car-seat / booster seat regulations in a two-seater automobile, feeding and sheltering the dog someone found running down the street until the owner could stop by the station and pick it up, helping push the cars off to the closest car park after an accident, swinging by my house when a few motion detectors started going active while we were out of town for a weekend, alerting residents that a power line was down / truck in the ditch / multi-car accident on the main road, getting FexEx to stop delivery for an elderly neighbor who was rung up by Great-Nephew Timmy who needs bail money (cash of course) sent to this Nigerian prince (maybe I’m mixing my fraud, but you get the idea) thus returning the chap’s money. That last one? The Police Chief offered, for anyone rcv’ing such a call, that an officer would happily ring up the other police department, confirm the charges, and verify the appropriate way to send bail.
Those are all things I know about the Township police having done in the five years I’ve lived in my current house — many for me personally. No, you shouldn’t assume everyone else has your experience; but your personal experience will inform your beliefs. And I’m happy my tax money is used to offer these services within the community.
Now, if you tell me that you want to restructure the police so there’s not an armed response to pretty much any of those scenarios? That’s a perfectly reasonable idea. Or, from a fiscal conservative’s standpoint, that it would be more cost effective to have some less-credentialed response unit available for non-dangerous situations. Certainly some police action should be eliminated. I used to get stopped just for driving into the “bad neighborhood” in my “nice car” as part of the perpetual war on drugs, and that’s about the nicest race/class profiling interaction you’ll ever hear about. But I’m also fairly unique in my social circle in that I ever had bad interactions with police. I call this the ‘few good apples’ problem — even when someone is aware of systemic problems and abuse, they want to save the good apples that they’ve personally encountered.
There needs to be a pithy phrase that conveys “You will still have someone to ring up if the home automation system says there’s motion in your house while you’re all out at dinner. But you’ll also have someone with mental health experience to ring up when grandma has a manic episode and is brandishing a large butcher knife because she happened to be slicing up a watermelon. You’ll also have someone with social work experience to ring up if your teenage kid runs away from home.”
Because, fortunately or unfortunately, the general public aren’t going to take half an hour and read through a nuanced proposal to address the issue (nor are they apt to put more time into understanding the extent of the problem than the videos they’re encountering in their FB feed). They’re *going* to judge the situation and solutions based on slogans.