To whoever fills the empty seat on the San Luis Obispo City Council, you must not make the same mistakes. A just future depends on defunding the police.
We're used to people telling us to get real and to stop dreaming of a better world.
It doesn't bother us.
We simply refuse to let their paucity of imagination alter the way we move through the world.
We are now more than a year past the murder of George Floyd (rest in peace). At this point we all know, or should know, the violence of policing. We should all have seen the news, and seen the pain of family after family—pain that they should never have been made to feel.
Every Black, brown, and native person murdered by police is an incalculable loss. Every family of the slain is a family that's suffered an indescribable theft. Every marginalized person surveilled, harassed, assaulted, and worse by these armed enforcers of the state is a person traumatized by an event that didn't have to happen. Our communities have been struggling under the weight of this policing-prisons apparatus for far too long.
By now everyone who is paying attention to these issues has heard the call come up from the streets to "defund the police." But prominent Democrats, from Tom Fulks of the local Democratic Party to the sitting Democrats in the U.S. Senate, have fallen all over themselves to denounce it.
Democrats usually agree that there is something "wrong" with policing. Between the two sides of the American political coin, the Democratic Party is the one that sets itself up as the party of the people. So they tend to couch their policy around policing in calls for reform.
This view would have you believe that there is just something missing from policing: that if policy can hit upon the right combination of things to add—more body cameras, more regulations, more training, more diversity in hiring, or some other element—then the issues in policing will be fixed.
But it is not the form of policing that is the issue here. The problem is policing itself.
For the entire time policing has existed, there has been brutality associated with it. For the entirety of years that we have lived with police, policy makers have taken the public down increasingly expensive spirals of reform.
The round of reforms prior to the murder of George Floyd came on the heels of 2014 and the also-high-profile murder of Michael Brown (rest in peace). We will let the public be the judge of those reforms: In New York, the chokehold was already banned when the NYPD used it to murder Eric Garner; in San Jose, SJPD was receiving regular bias trainings when they shot one of the men who regularly did the trainings for them; and none of the reforms anywhere stopped the slew of high-profile police murders in 2020.
Policing is not broken. It is working as it was meant to. Policing was never about public safety: It is about state control of undesirables. Housing, health care, schooling, and every social program that benefits the majority of people is limited by its dependence on police.
But the Democratic Party establishment has fallen all over itself to distance the party from calls to defund. Mr. Fulks of the SLO County Democratic Party Central Committee dubbed calls to defund "a non sequitur" in an op-ed published in The Tribune and asserted that they drive people away, ostensibly from the real issue of turning people out to vote blue. Sitting Democratic Party senators also took the opportunity to send a strong message against calls to defund, with a vote to withhold federal funding from local governments that defund their police departments.
But the real non sequiturs come from the party that sets itself up as the party of the people, turning its back on the people yet again to capitulate to the Republicans. The real non sequiturs are the despicable pronoun jokes like the one Mr. Fulks made in his op-ed, and other attempts of the same type to curry favor with more- or less-overtly fascistic strains of the right.
If the Democratic Party is afraid of losing its base, as Mr. Fulks suggested, then perhaps they should find some moral courage instead.
Here in the SLO area, we have one of the highest costs of living of anywhere in the USA, and we've seen no vision put forward for a Central Coast where everyone is housed and fed, and has health care and all basic needs met. Instead, the Democratic Party continues to to use police to criminalize poverty (unhoused encampment sweeps, anyone?).
Defund is a call for fresh air. Defund is a recognition that instead of failing us with the same old paradigms, policy-makers should be listening to the call to fund communities.
So no, we are not satisfied with the Democratic Party. We need to divest from policing. Whoever fills the empty seat on the SLO City Council needs to have the courage to imagine something better.
Investments in care can do so much more for us than more of the same old status quo. We have a dream where we are no longer suffering from a paucity of actually affordable housing. We have a dream where the police are not double-digit percentages of a city budget. We have a long-term goal of nothing less than a Central Coast where all our peoples can thrive, not just some of us.
To us, nobody is expendable. Not the trans* people harmed by Mr. Fulks' pronoun jokes, nor the Indigenous people harmed by his casual joking defense of Abraham Lincoln (look up the Dakota 38), nor anybody that he and the Dems would have us discard for the sake of appealing to moderate voters. We will not discard them. We would be ashamed to do so.
In the city of SLO, we are calling for the City Council to defund the police by at least $5 million, and to shift an additional $5 million from other sources in the budget, both to be put toward expense relief for the bottom 10 percent of incomes and no-income/very-low-income housing efforts.
Defund isn't just a slogan. It is policy as a stepping-stone to abolition, part of a whole body of work and scholarship by communities of color that perhaps Mr. Fulks and the rest of the local Democratic Party are unaware of. Perhaps they should look it up. Δ