But Detroit Hughes, 57, a formerly homeless black woman who now lives in a predominantly black and low-income neighborhood in South LA, told me if “defunding the police” means less policing in her area, “I’d move back to Skid Row. I’d feel safer in Skid Row than here.” She said she hears gunshots in her neighborhood every week. Just a few weeks ago, someone beat up a 13-year-old boy by the car wash and stole his tennis shoes: “No cop did that.”
Hughes doesn’t deny the real problems between the black community and the police. She said that in 2012 her 19-year-old brother was visiting his girlfriend in Indiana when the girlfriend’s grandfather, a retired sheriff, shot and killed him in his front yard. She said that retired sheriff faced no legal repercussions. Her brother had been three days away from joining the military when he died, leaving behind a 5-month-old daughter.
“We’re tired, angry, and black,” Hughes said: “I get it, I get it. I’m upset too! I identify with George Floyd more than you can ever know. I think black people are saying, ‘We’ve had enough with being unjustifiably accused and killed.’ But defunding the police is not the solution. There are issues and behaviors among us that we need to address ourselves.”
“I think black people are saying, ‘We’ve had enough with being unjustifiably accused and killed.’ But defunding the police is not the solution.”
Hughes raises a point that many advocates aren’t addressing: Blacks still make up a high percentage of both perpetrators and victims of homicide compared with other races. Research shows that more police officers on the ground may deter crime, but the paradox in high-crime black communities is that too often the police overpolice communities on petty offenses such as traffic tickets or marijuana possession, yet underpolice them when it comes to serious, violent crimes.
Some proponents of cutting police budgets question the militarizing of the police with grenades and tanks. But it would take more money and more officers to hire and train officers to walk the neighborhoods, and it would take more time to listen to the community and focus on investigating major crimes.
At its core, the “defund the police” movement stems from a deeply rooted distrust not just of individual police officers but of the legal system. Many black citizens view the police not as guardians but oppressors, and the statistics show why: Police are more likely to stop and search black than white drivers. Although black and white Americans use and sell drugs at similar rates, blacks are 2.7 times more likely to be arrested for drug-related offenses and 6.5 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug-related charges.
A lot of history contributes to distrust. After emancipation, local police were the ones enforcing sharecropping systems, voter suppression, convict leasing, and prison farms. Many terrorized civil rights demonstrators with batons, whips, and dogs. Today, many African Americans see police as part of an unjust system that disproportionately arrests, imprisons, and kills them.