Yes, We Should Defund the Police | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Geo Maher during a Newsweek podcast debate on policing and law enforcement. You can listen to the podcast here:

I think it's absolutely true that the question of dismantling, even abolishing the police, which was put to the fore of public debates in the aftermath of the Minneapolis rebellion, following the death of George Floyd, is a broad conversation. It's going to be a long-lasting conversation. However, when it comes to the simple question of defunding, I honestly would be shocked that there wouldn't be far more consensus on this question. When we look at the history and the development of American policing, what we see are ballooning police budgets. We see the dramatic expansion of the police into every sphere of American life, into schools, into public libraries. And we see policing as a growing phenomenon that currently claims hundreds of billions of dollars nationwide. We've seen very little when it comes to actual pay-off, in terms of those budgets. What we have seen is the decimation of public services, the decimation of the kinds of social programs that we know, and which provide a far more measurable impact on reducing violence in communities.

Bayle Gelle (C), the father of Dolal
Bayle Gelle (C), the father of Dolal Idd who was shot and killed by Minneapolis Police last year, speaks during a demonstration calling for justice for George Floyd on March 19, 2021 in St Paul, Minnesota. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

So the question of merely defunding, in other words, shifting some of those budgets from these dramatically expansive police budgets toward the budget of, social welfare, of after-school programs and other programs, in cities in particular—that should be a no-brainer, as far as I'm concerned. If we're going to be talking statistically, we at least need to be coherent and systematic about what it is that we're saying. I live in Philadelphia. There has been a dramatic spike in violent crime and in homicides that in no way is connected to a reduction in stops, and certainly is not connected to any kind of reduction in policing. There was a sort of surface-level fake defunding that occurred in Philadelphia, but it did nothing to change the function of the policing in the city of Philadelphia.

We need to be a little more nuanced when we think about what is causing the dramatic increase in violent crime in cities, in the country. It's got everything to do with people who are trapped inside during COVID, who have even fewer opportunities for employment, to get out of the house, to get a job, to move out from their parents' homes specifically. We're talking about young people. It's got everything to do with the radical destabilization of people's worlds around them. In the context of this pandemic, there are far more systemic questions that we need to deal with on top of the fact that there was absolutely no funding for social programs. There's been a pittance of support for people suffering under the COVID pandemic—suffering from unemployment and barely hanging on to their houses, when it comes to the eviction moratorium. So we need to think about these broader questions.

Geo Maher is a political theorist and visiting associate professor at Vassar College.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.