Chicago’s model of what “defunding” police might look like

This article is liberal commentary.

“Defunding” police is easily misunderstood, which is largely the fault of advocates of the concept who adopted that as their slogan, because to many people it means “no police.” Even for those who realize that’s not what it means, it’s confusing, because it’s unclear just what it does mean.

I’m not sure myself that I accurately understand the goals of the “defund” movement, but my understanding is that it roughly means putting more money into social services instead of into expanding police forces, and substituting social interventions for police responses in some situations, especially those involving people with mental health issues. Or something along those lines.

A Huffington Post story (read it here) published on Wednesday, September 30, 2020, offers an illustration of how this might work. Everyone knows about the gun violence problem in Chicago, although it’s easy to blow it out of proportion; nearly 2,000 people had been shot this year in Chicago as of mid-July, but in a city of 9.5 million people that’s about 1 of every 4,750 people, so it’s not like being outdoors in Chicago is like being on a battlefield. Still, any is too many, and the City of Chicago’s 12,000+ cops haven’t brought it under control, so maybe it’s time to try something different.

In recent years, gun violence has consumed most of Kevin Wicks’ life in Chicago. He’s been shot 10 times, and both his son and his stepson have been killed in shootings. Since April, Wicks has made preventing gun violence his job. That’s when he was recruited by Chicago CRED, which hires people to prevent violence between cliques and gangs primarily in the Roseland neighborhood. At night, Wicks goes out in the neighborhood and talks to young men in the middle of active conflicts.

“It’s about how you talk to them. Something just as simple as ‘How you doin’, little brother, today?’ They’ve done lost their friend. Ain’t nobody said ‘hi’ to them all day. And that might just change their whole scenario of feeling,” Wicks said. “Somebody thought about me? Like, damn, I’m human today. Somebody’s seen me.”

CRED, which stands for “create real economic density” and provides counseling and job training, was founded in 2016 by [Obama’s] Education Secretary Arne Duncan. But after the death of George Floyd and historic protests demanding police reform this year, the organization has positioned its work as an alternative to public safety. The organization’s belief is that law enforcement and arrests are often not the best long-term solutions and that someone like Wicks, with all of his experiences with violence, might actually be better than the police at keeping his community safe.

Wicks said he never sees Chicago police officers do violence de-escalation or prevention work in Roseland. “We don’t want them to come down here, because they bring tension,” he said. “They pull up after the shooting is over with and stand there 30 deep and then tell you it’s a crime scene. OK, why is all the police standing here if this is a crime scene? Go do some crime work!” Instead of pursuing the perpetrators, the officers just end up hassling witnesses, Wicks said. …

“God knows we need police,” said Steve Gates, the site manager for CRED’s trauma therapy and life coaching operations. “But if we can reimagine the police right, if we thought about instead of hiring more police — we’ve got about 13,000 cops in the city — if we thought about diverting some of that money to programs like CRED, the people who are doing the work, I think we’d get a bigger bang for our buck.” The Chicago Police Department’s budget for 2020 is $1.68 billion. CRED’s budget is $23 million, with part of the funding supporting other outreach programs in the city and $10 million specifically reserved for services in Roseland.”

The reason it might work is because,

On the Friday before Labor Day, a group of young men who had been recruited by the outreach team were meeting at CRED’s offices for group therapy. A participant … told life coach Kanoya Ali that their work together had “helped me control myself. I think a lot more now before I act. It helped me stay calm,” he said.

So the question is whether to send more money to CRED instead of Chicago PD, and if the experiment works, do the same in other cities, including Seattle (the home base of this blog). In Chicago, even the police think CRED’s approach is helpful:

A Chicago Police Department spokesperson said the department “understands the importance of finding solutions to underlying issues that may lead to violent crime” and called violence prevention organizations “critical to this effort.”

Don’t you think it’s at least worth a try? And if this is what “defunding” means, are you willing to support it? I am. And isn’t doing something productive about violence in Chicago and other places better for us all than Trump’s demagoguery about “Democrat-run cities” and his threats to send militarized forces into cities to … do what? … suppress peaceful dissent against police abuses?

Photo: In Chicago, “defunding” has people talking in place of shooting

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