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Calls to defund the police no longer seem like such a radical idea

As Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said, ‘We’re spending $5 million a day policing alone, and that hasn’t solved any of our systemic problems.’

Dajore Wilson, 8, was in her father’s car, stopped at a red light, when she was fatally shot Monday night at South Union Avenue and West 47th Street in Canaryville on the South Side.
Dajore Wilson, 8, was in her father’s car, stopped at a red light, when she was fatally shot Monday night at South Union Avenue and West 47th Street in Canaryville on the South Side.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

This is the kind of thing that wakes me up at night.

Why is 8-year-old Dajore Wilson dead if the city’s policing strategies are on the right track?

Dajore is the sixth child 10 or younger to be killed by gunfire in Chicago since June.

D’Andre Wilson, Dajore’s father, and another adult passenger were also hit when a man fired on their car while it was in traffic near 47th Street and Union Avenue in Canaryville on Labor Day.

This capped another holiday marred by gun violence. Ten other people were killed and 51 others wounded in shootings across the city despite the Chicago Police Department’s aggressive safety plan that put 8,000 police officers on the street, canceled days off and mandated that officers work 12-hour shifts.

According to surveillance video, police believe the shooter jumped out of a black Dodge Charger that sped off before the police arrived.

On Friday, the anti-violence group “I’m Telling, Don’t Shoot,” announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the shooter.

The day before, a female postal worker, who was delivering mail on the Far South Side, was shot multiple times by stray gunfire from “at least two vehicles speeding past,” according to the police.

There was absolutely nothing the police could have done to protect Dajore or the mail carrier or countless others caught in the crossfire in such brazen shootings.

The police can’t be on every corner and on every block. But, if they were, most of us would call that over-policing, if not outright harassment.

Still, despite the ineffectiveness of police in such situations, many of us shrink from the concept of a neighborhood without police, dismissing the concept as foolhardy.

But maybe it is time to take a closer look.

Most of the folks of my generation were taught from an early age to obey police orders and call 911 to report a crime. We saw police as protectors, not as oppressors.

But many in the millennial generation have had a different policing experience. They see police through the lens of history that traces the origins of policing in America back to slave patrols and white supremacy.

In an insightful opinion piece recently published in The New York Times headlined “No More Money for the Police,” Philip V. McHarris, a doctoral candidate focusing on race, housing and policing, and Thenjiwe McHarris, a strategist with the Movement for Black Lives, make a compelling argument for diverting police funding.

Movement for Black Lives was founded in 2014 after the uprising over the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“More training or diversity among police officers won’t end police brutality, nor will firing and charging individual officers,” the authors wrote, pointing out that progressive police reform by the Minneapolis Police Department did not prevent George Floyd from being killed by police.

“The solution to ending police violence and cultivating a safer country lies in reducing the power of the police and their contact with the public. We can do that by reinvesting the $100 billion spent on policing nationwide in alternative emergency response programs.”

In Chicago, demands for police accountability fell mostly on deaf ears until the video was released that showed Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times.

While calls to defund police are often greeted with sneers, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the same quest for social justice that broke down the walls of legal discrimination has been resurrected in this new generation.

Last month, the Cook County Board passed a resolution called “Justice for Black Lives” to “redirect money from arresting and locking up offenders to housing, health care and job creation.”

Commissioner Brandon Johnson, D-Chicago, sponsored the measure.

“We’re spending $5 million a day policing alone, and that hasn’t solved any of our systemic problems,” Johnson said.

These voices are growing louder, and they should.

When it comes to defunding the police, I’m not there yet. But I understand where these young activists are coming from.

We can’t keep using the same strategies and expect a different result.