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Thoughts on the Theme — November/December 2020 — How to politic… beyond the status quo

A public demand to end the “dramatic expansion … of policing”

As mass protests have taken place all over the nation, the images of well-armed and flak-jacketed police facing off against protesters and violently subduing them while remaining encased in protective gear stands in stark contrast to our desperately under-equipped health care workers who have been vainly trying to save as many lives as possible during the coronavirus pandemic.

Police are clad head to toe in high-tech gear, face shields and body armor, with no shortage of plastic handcuffs, rubber bullets, and tear gas canisters. The optics of these modern-day gestapo-like forces roaming city streets, bashing in heads and firing tear gas into the faces of unarmed protesters are a reminder of just how many federal and state-level resources we have poured into law enforcement over the years at the expense of health care, education, and other public needs.

Even as the economic collapse triggered by the pandemic threatened to devastate public school systems in the liberal havens of Los Angeles and New York City, law enforcement budgets remained unscathed. California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom proposed big cuts to schools to compensate for massive budget shortfalls at the same time that LAPD officers were receiving $41 million in bonuses. LA’s Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti recently released this year’s proposed city budget—typical of previous years—which sets aside a whopping one-third of all city spending on police.

Similarly in New York City, the Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to compensate for pandemic-related revenue losses is to make cuts to the school budget that are 27 times that of his city’s police budget cuts. Alice Speri writing in the Intercept explains: “The US spends some $100 billion annually on policing,” and “[i]n cities across the country, policing alone can take up anything between a third and 60 percent of the entire annual budget.”

And while the pandemic is forcing cities to make hard choices about which public services to slash, police department budgets have remained immune to cuts. Liberal cities like LA, New York and Minneapolis, in the words of one journalist, “keep piling money on police departments.”

Just as congressional Democrats for far too long have poured money into the US military to fuel wars abroad—even outdoing Trump’s thirst for military largesse—the Democratic Party’s state and local leaders have poured money into our domestic armed forces—the police—to fuel a war on us, and especially those among us with black or brown skin.

Now, because the collective public rage over police violence and impunity has reached a fever pitch, something extraordinary is happening. A long-standing activist call to defund the police is receiving a mainstream platform. On May 30, the New York Times published an op-ed by Philip V. McHarris and Thenjiwe McHarris entitled “No More Money for the Police.” Black Lives Matter has explicitly called for, “a national defunding of police,” and is demanding, “investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive.”

Author Alex Vitale’s 2018 book, The End of Policing, aptly articulated on its cover: “The problem is not police training, police diversity, or police methods. The problem is the dramatic and unprecedented expansion and intensity of policing in the last forty years, a fundamental shift in the role of police in society. The problem is policing itself.”

Vitale’s work has taken on new urgency during the protests over George Floyd’s killing. In a recent piece he wrote for the Guardian, he explained that the solution for local authorities to tackle police, “is to dramatically shrink their function.” Vitale added, “We must demand that local politicians develop non-police solutions to the problems poor people face.”

That means mayors and governors from all parts of the political spectrum need to stop subscribing to the notion that police can solve problems caused by poor education, health care, and jobs, and directly start diverting money from police into education, health care, and jobs. Liberal leaders in particular, who have paid mere lip service for years to social justice, need to put their money where their mouth is and wrest it out of the hands of police departments.

—This is an excerpt from an article on police violence by Sonali Kolhektar, printed originally in inequality.org

And more in this issue on citizens doing politics

A state senator succinctly puts the case that more public investment is the solution to the pandemic plunge. On page 3, citizens demand that local leaders use the power they have (see page 5) against unauthorized militia instead of against people forced to live in their vehicles.

For more examples of citizens getting organized, read about the local Democratic Socialists and check out the results of progressive initiatives on worker rights, taxing the rich and more on pages 6-7. You’ll also find out what happened in significant elections in Thurston and Pierce Counties—did voters go for climate deniers or climate realists, for example.

It’s extremely important to us in Washington state what happens in other states, because when they elect members of Congress who are committed to denying democracy—we will suffer the consequences along with all the other states.

Turn to page 10 for a blow-by-blow report on long-term organizing that is producing a shift toward governing for the many in Rhode Island, and the back cover for a startling look at the erosion of our right to vote and its consequences for a viable government.

Still more stories about people acting to bring about change directly: Read about a valiant effort to save precious second-growth trees on page 9. As always, find out what kinds of amazing things are going on despite the pandemic on page 11 Community Spotlight.

—BW

Ideas for next issues

January. What we can’t face. Here is a reason to write about this: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin. Deadline December 15

February. Time. Time seems to loom ever larger in our understanding of how to live…the time we spend on daily demands—and the time we have to address the gorilla in the room—climate change Deadline: January 15

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