‘Police Don’t Prevent Crime, They Respond To Crime’: Essence Fest Panel Discusses ‘Defund the Police’

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As calls to defund the police swell across the United States, organizers, activists, and journalists have been placed in the position of contextualizing just what that means.

Does defund really mean “defund?” If it does, who will keep people safe? Is abolition possible?

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These are common questions being asked the recent uprising in response to state-enacted, sponsored and organized violence. To discuss the fight for our future, ESSENCE Political and News Director Yesha Callahan, Movement for Black Lives Matter organizer Charlene Carruthers and Black Lives Matter – Toronto founder Janaya Khan came together for a solution-based discussion during the Wealth & Power experience of the first-ever virtual edition of the Essence Festival of Culture.

The panel was a moderated by CNN journalist Don Lemon and presented in partnership with the U.S. Census, as well as AT&T WarnerMedia.

Lemon asked Khan about the skepticism that shades conversations around defunding police in this country, to which Khan responded:

“Really what is built into the American consciousness…is the idea that Black people must have done something to deserve what happens to them,” they said. “That Trayvon shouldn’t have gone to the store that day; that Atatiana should not have left her door ajar; that Mike Brown should not have talked back; that Sandra Bland should not have asserted her rights…this is an awareness that Black children have the moment the world becomes aware of them.”

“So, here’s what I want us to know about defunding the police…what we’re saying is not so unimaginable, “Khan continued. “Because if you live in a white and wealthy neighborhood, you live in a community that is almost virtually police free…the real fear in this country when it comes to policing [is that] they are no longer going to keep people like us where we belong, in the ghettos and the projects.”

The real fear in this country when it comes to policing [is that] they are no longer going to keep people like us where we belong, in the ghettos and the projects.

What does it mean to radically re-imagine what our communities could look like when not occupied and targeted by police forces who pretend that their goal is to keep Black people safe? In this moment, bold conversations about complete abolition of all systems that oppress our communities have emerged once again.

“We’re not just simply talking about moving resources into more institutions that act as police by proxy,” said Carruthers, who is also the author of Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements. “There are many social work institutions that police our people. I’m not talking about reimagining policing. I’m talking about redoing and transforming how we deal with conflict, harm, and violence.”

Callahan pointed out that while discussions on defunding the police are critical, there needs to be a continued forward push in policy, on both the state and federal levels, to see sustainable difference.

Watch the full discussion here.

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