In 2012, a 17-year-old boy by the name of Treyvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman while he was visiting his family in Florida. Wearing a hoodie, Martin was walking back home after buying Arizona tea and skittles from a convenience store. At the time, Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch captain, and he called the police when he saw Martin claiming that the boy was “suspicious.” The dispatcher told Zimmerman to stay in his vehicle and away from Martin. However, moments later, gunshots rattled the neighborhood as Zimmerman shot Martin. Zimmerman claimed that he was defending himself, and the jury on his trial agreed with his tale of events. He was acquitted in 2013. The Black Lives Matter movement was created in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in response to the failure of the justice system to punish Zimmerman and to bring Treyvon Martin and his family justice.
Black Lives Matter has had controversy surrounding it since it first began, specifically with the argument that “all lives matter.” This counter-argument to Black Lives Matter shows a profound misunderstanding because Black Lives Matter is not against non-Black people or arguing that their lives do not matter. It was created to show that Black people are severely mistreated in the hope of bringing change that will protect Black lives moving forward. It is a cry for help because if a country promises to keep its people safe, it should protect all of them, especially those sworn to protect them and their communities. The movement hopes to end the systemic violence inflicted on Black people because the country has failed to do so for hundreds of years and is failing to do so now. Black Lives Matter does not claim that other races do not matter. It simply shines a spotlight on the Black lives that are neglected by the country. “All lives matter” does not fight for anything because it suggests that all lives are already equally valued and protected, thereby ignoring the problem at hand. Claiming that all lives matter as a counter-argument to the Black Lives Matter movement ignores the pain of Black communities while other communities enjoy the protection that the government provides them.
Recently, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have gained international attention. Many people across the United States and around the world are protesting in the name of Black Lives Matter after watching the brutal murder of George Floyd. Floyd is not the first Black person to be killed on camera, but his death has forced many to start paying attention. If people did not come together to protest, sign petitions, donate, and call government representatives, the police officers that killed Floyd would continue to walk free. Countless officers who abuse their power to harm or kill Black people do not get punished. If police officers see that their peers not only walk free after taking the lives of human beings but also continue to have their jobs, they will think that they have the power to do the same thing. Derek Chauvin listened to Floyd’s cries and the anger from the crowd in front of him as he knelt upon his neck. He saw the cameras recording him. He watched as Floyd slowly lost his life, but he continued to press his knee on the Black man’s neck until he died. He knew that precedent in the justice system was on his side. He knew that even if he killed a Black man as the entire world watched, he would still have security because police unions and lawmakers have defended those like him and would defend him rather than the man that lost his life. This precedent needs to change. All police officers that have killed Black people without any cause need to be fired, arrested, and charged. We must fight to bring justice for the countless Black lives that this country has lost due to racist negligence. Murder should not and can not be normalized, especially when people of authority are the ones committing it.
Black Lives Matter responded to George Floyd’s murder with the proposal of defunding the police. Defunding the police means taking away some of the money allocated to police departments in order to finance programs that help the community. In many cities, the government distributes more money to police than it does multiple social services. For example, according to The Atlantic, “Oakland Police Department receives nearly half of the city’s discretionary spending. That is more than human services, parks and recreation, and transportation combined.” Making officers wear body cameras and giving classes about implicit bias have not stopped them from abusing Black people. Instead of spending taxpayers’ money on police training that doesn’t work, that money should be used to make their neighborhoods safer for them and their families through other methods. The budgets of many cities and counties across the country allocate more money towards policing and incarceration than mental health services, education, healthcare, homeless services, infrastructure, affordable housing, and other services, all of which could help stop crime at the source. Crime rates would decrease if Black communities were presented with more resources that provide jobs, education, housing, and hospitals that help them prosper. Black children that live in communities that have high rates of crime should have access to after school programs and volunteer opportunities that will help them stay away from crime, stay safe, and develop their passions and skills. Instead, they are left with police officers who are ready to make arrests based on their biases about the community and forced into for-profit prisons that only serve to gain from their demise.
The government needs to acknowledge the fact that the relationship between police officers and Black communities is broken. Instead of overcrowding these communities with police that they do not trust, representatives need to do better at providing resources that allow them to feel like they have options to improve themselves and their communities. As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez explained, “Affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing, etc. more than they fund police. These communities have lower crime rates not because they have more police, but [because] they have more resources to support [a] healthy society in a way that reduces crime.” People who have the privilege of living in communities where their safety is prioritized by having funds go to helpful resources rather than police can not argue that defunding the police is an inherently bad option. Defunding the police is a policy that advocates for communities whose safety has been neglected for too long.
When defunding the police, a percentage of the money that police departments receive from the government would instead be distributed to other departments, such as social services. The police are called for myriad problems, but their limited training does not prepare them to manage all of them correctly, and in many situations, professionals with other training would be better suited to de-escalate conflicts. If there is a domestic violence call or a call concerning someone who is mentally ill, defunding the police would allow someone capable and trained to handle the situation—like social workers trained to handle domestic violence disputes or a mental health professional trained to communicate effectively with people with severe mental health issues—instead of sending police officers to arrest or pose a threat to people who need help.
There are too many stories of police officers harming the people in the communities that they pledge to serve. The Law Enforcement Oath of Honor that police officers recite before they join the force states, “I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions… I will always uphold… the community… I serve.” Too many police officers have been doing the opposite of their pledge, and in doing so they are bringing more harm than good to Black communities in this country. The Black Lives Matter movement is working to hold officers accountable for their actions by pushing to defund the police, and the petition for it can be found on their website (https://blacklivesmatter.com/defundthepolice/). Instead of giving police departments money to continue neglecting and harming Black communities, that money would go to services that help those communities thrive.
Abolishing the police is different from defunding the police. Abolishing the police is a long-term plan to get rid of the police system completely. This idea is alarming to many Americans because this country has depended on the police for protection for centuries, and many imagine chaos would erupt without the police patrolling the streets. Abolishing the police would result in the end of funding and support for the police because they far too often bring danger to communities instead of safety, and it reimagines how communities can be better served without police as we know them today. It would slowly get rid of the police while exploring other kinds of community safety measures in order to find a better way to protect people. Instead of oversaturating Black communities with more police officers, abolishing the police would instead help those communities by providing more access to social services like education, housing, healthcare, and more. It hopes to give people real security without having officers that pull out guns and tasers in fear of those that they pledge to serve.
Defunding or abolishing the police are not things that will happen overnight, and they are not as radical as many believe. Instead of completely shooting down these ideas, it is better to research how these ideas plan to combat police violence. It is easy for someone who has been protected by the police to ignore the fact that the police simultaneously harm those who do not have the privileges that they do. Reimagining how policing can work in America can only happen if people choose to recognize the pain of others and view this important subject from other perspectives. It is time to pay attention to communities outside of our own to see and hear the problems of our neighbors in order to help them prosper in this country.
Black Lives Matter does not end here. It does not end with social media posts or protests. We need to have conversations about the social injustices occurring around us every day for the movement to gain more traction and effect real change. Conversations about defunding and abolishing the police are crucial to accomplishing the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement because the events of these past few months have proven that policing in America is fundamentally broken. When things break, they must either be fixed or replaced with something better.
We need to be politically involved and vote for representatives that will advocate for and protect everyone in their communities. Having morals or caring about the lives of human beings aligns with being political. “I don’t like politics” is no longer an acceptable excuse to remain uninvolved and apathetic when fundamental human rights are being violated. The only way to fight for Black lives is to vote for representatives who believe that Black Lives Matter and who will work to rebuild institutions so that they can work for all Americans. It is crucial to learn more about Black communities and the problems they face because no one can fight for something without knowledge. Black Lives Matter, they will always matter, and they deserve to be protected.