Replace Police With Crisis Assistance Teams

The violent and reactionary police response to recent protests–during which the boys in blue have acted as counter-protestors rather than neutral arbiters–has proved the point that black people have been making all along: cops are not cut out for this shit. It’s not just a few “bad apples”; when two members of the Buffalo Police Department were suspended without pay (a weak punishment in itself) for assaulting an old dude, 57 other members of the city’s riot control team quit in a huff. All around the country, police have been caught on film brutalizing civilians in ways that would result in legal action if perpetrated by the average person.

Let’s not forget, either, that the Fraternal Order of Police, the country’s largest police union, is in love with Donald Trump, a man who can’t make it through one day without violating the Constitution. Law and order though, right? Again: the police are not neutral peacekeepers, but heavily armed, government-sanctioned enforcers of systemically racist and white supremacist policies.

A movement to defund and/or abolish the police is now gaining traction, with the Minneapolis city council stating its intention to dismantle the city’s department. Cop leadership, and their allies in the media and in government, of course, will fight tooth and nail to stop this type of change from happening nationwide, but I would argue that they’ve lost the legitimate authority to object (not that they really ever had it). Tired broken windows arguments, along with hefty doses of racism-tinged fearmongering will be used by police and police sympathizers to justify their own existence, but Americans would be wise not to fall for it this time.

I’d point to Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS program as a model that could be emulated by cities across the country. Staffed by crisis mediators, mental health professionals, and EMTs, the service addresses situations to which police, due to temperamental and social factors, would likely respond with violence and/or prejudice. The murders of Stephon Clark, Osaze Osagie, Keith Lamont Scott, and countless others would not have occurred had it been trained professionals who responded in their times of need, rather than police officers who saw a black person in the midst of a mental health crisis as nothing more than a threat.

CAHOOTS’s operating budget for 2018 was $1.8 million. Compare that to the Pittsburgh Police Department’s nearly $115 million budget for 2020. You’ll never convince me that the city can’t spare the money to implement a a crisis assistance program. If it means the cops can’t have military grade weapons and riot gear to antagonize and attack citizens with, I’ve got a song to play on the world’s smallest violin for the exceedingly hyperbolic action-movie-villain-looking-dude, PGH Police Union President Robert Swartzwelder. STFU, Bob. I urge anyone reading this to contact the Pittsburgh City Council and the mayor’s office to demand that money be taken from the police department’s budget and used to establish a CAHOOTS-inspired program ASAP, along with increased funding for housing, education, and quality of life programs.

Black lives matter. The blue clearly doesn’t agree, so it’s time to phase ’em out.

Since this is a music blog, here’s a song:

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