By Mercy A. Quaye
June 14, 2020
It’s funny how quickly momentum on a movement can pick up when we stop trying to reason with our oppressors.
You may have noticed the conversation on police brutality and accountability recently took a turn for radical change. Instead of politely asking that civil servants who kill people on the job at least lose that job and be held to account in other ways, the movement for black lives across the state and around the world has issued a formal indictment on the system in its entirety.
Policing in the way we’ve known it is largely ineffective and has had a history of preying on poor people and people of color. It is by mere circumstance of birth and ZIP code that your life may either be under constant surveillance or completely unfazed by regular, fearful interactions with law enforcement. Especially in Connecticut.
After writing on police violence and officer-involved deaths more than I care to on countless occasions, the chants of “defund the police” have grown on me. I recall having Kerry Ellington, a New Haven organizer, on my WNHH show in 2018 to discuss the topic of abolishing policing as we know it and I’m ashamed to say I had a weak imagination.
At the time I couldn’t picture what a world without police would be. In just two years, I’ve switched camps and I’ve realized that though we may need first responders, we don’t need police. What’s more is that for many of the issues most apparent in communities that are over-policed, officers do not have the training and evidently the empathetic capacity to adequately respond. Instead of investing millions into policing, we should be investing in social services and education — two metrics that are proven to reduce crime and poverty.
We’ll hear outrage over the debate. We’ll hear governors, mayors, police chiefs and even some community members say that we must be “realistic” with our expectations. After speaking with Melvin Medina, the public policy and advocacy director with the ACLU of Connecticut, nothing about these demands seem unrealistic to me.
“This isn’t a dream. It’s a lived reality now,” he said. “And it’s a lived reality for people who live in low-population towns throughout the state.”
Our state is divided into 169 towns. Of that, 80 have no police department at all. Fifty-four towns throughout the state are under the jurisdiction of a resident state trooper who actually lives in the town they serve, but the others have no police department and no resident trooper. By Medina’s estimates, nearly 100,000 people are already living in the reality organizers are proposing. So, what’s the reluctance?
“Connecticut has a history of controlling black and Latino bodies,” Medina said. “Often what’s missing in our state’s history is that over the last 50 years, there has been an intentional effort to police and incarcerate black and Latino people in the state.”
Medina calls the system of policing a “sophisticated political machine” that functions similar to the partisan political animals who work to control legislative outcomes.
To cement this, he offers data that shows just how subversive policing is. Since 2013, police unions throughout the state and the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association have spent more than $1 million on lobbying services to directly thwart any bill that pushes for police accountability.
“What they use those services for is establishing relationships with the legislature, keeping eyes on legislation, and getting hard-to-get meetings with legislators,” he said. “What people should know, you don’t pay them for a bill or an issue, you pay for the access and for the service itself.”
He also said they actively apply pressure to legislators who prove to be threats to their efforts and work to persuade them to drop any bill or vote to move police accountability forward. Even down to the money for elections, police unions have been known to start PACs to support particular candidates.
Make no mistake, policing as we know it can’t be saved with civilian review boards or community policing. Many community policing efforts are acts of public relations that have no bearing on the policies that actually impact the communities. So while externally your local department may actively invest in making sure you know the name of your neighborhood beat cop, internally the unions of which these departments are a part are strategically killing any hope of satisfying your desire to hold officers accountable for reckless, dangerous, homicidal behavior.
Over the coming weeks I’m collaborating with the ACLU to look into the issues of policing around the state, the reality for the thousands of Connecticut residents who live without police, and into the unions and lobbying firms that propel this system forward.
“The issue isn’t that there’s a bad apple; there’s an entire ecosystem that is intentionally manipulating political outcomes and avoids holding police accountable in any meaningful way,” Medina said. “We’re talking about a sophisticated ecosystem that is deeply rooted within our political networks.”
If that’s the case, shouldn’t people know more about the apparatus holding this entire system up? It may become more evident as the protests persist, but resolving this civil unrest might necessitate radical, unprecedented change.
As the cries for defunding police get louder, and they will, we will undoubtedly begin to see quick adoptions of policies communities have been seeking for years. But Medina says, don’t be fooled.
“Police aren’t responding to demands against police brutality,” he said. “What they’re responding to now is the threat of nonexistence.”
This post originally published in ctinsider.com on June 14, 2020: https://www.ctinsider.com/opinion/article/Mercy-Quaye-Parts-of-CT-doing-just-fine-without-15336150.php