As protests across the country continue, local and national calls-to-action have been issued for defunding, disarming, and wide-spread divestment from the institution of policing. In response, police departments are making claims that such demands, if implemented, would impede law enforcement’s ability to effectively intervene and properly investigate alleged crimes.
The relatively unchallenged notion of law enforcement as a moral authority has created both a lack of clarity and concern among some people about the implications of defunding police on public safety and security. However, it’s essential to ask critical questions about the police’s historical and ongoing role. Most importantly, who and what exactly are police designed to protect and serve?
As history teaches us, the answer is seldom Black people or their property.
Police violence against Black people and communities is not anything new. The recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others underscores the origins of police in the United States as fugitive slave patrols. To be clear, slave patrols were designed to find, apprehend, terrorize, and punish Black people outside the law’s purview. This was made possible, in part, because Black people were not legally recognized as full human beings. And, despite the eventual passage of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, Black dehumanization as a social and political practice has remained.