Recently Anthony Brindisi co-sponsored a bi-partisan bill designed to “deter” themovement to reallocate police funding to other social programs. The Defund Cities that Defund the Police Act would ban municipalities which “defund the police” from receiving grants for economic development or revitalization projects. The bill as reported in the Utica Observer-Dispatch defines defunding the police as “abolishing or disbanding the police department with no intention of reinstating it, or significantly reducing the department’s budget without reallocating the funds or part of the funds to a community policing program.1”
Brindisi states his purpose in proposing the bill is to support the police and recognize the important and difficult work they do. He makes no mention of feeling a need to support the Black Lives Matter movement or the people of color who are his constituents. He mentions a need for reform in passing, but doesn’t seem to understand what the “defund the police” movement is about. He makes no mention of the existence of institutional racism within this country or within the NY 22nd district. It feels like he hasn’t actually spoken to people of color within his district or attempted to understand the reality of their lives.
Some of us, Democrats who worked hard to get Brindisi in office, have been disappointed with his stance on many issues in the last couple of years. Yet, Brindisi’s support of this bill and his comments are making us wonder, “Where in the world is Anthony coming from?”
The language describing the bill is vague enough that Brindisi could be trying to support both sides of the issue. Community policing, after all, is a working partnership with multiple organizations, including the police, designed to address the societal problems at the heart of issues of safety in our community. Community policing is about creating greater community trust in the police.2 It sounds a bit like the definition of the defund the police movement which is, as defined by the Brookings Institute, a way of “reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality.”3
With defund the police though, the goal is to transfer funds to agencies like schools and social services, which can address the problems of addiction, homelessness, mental health, housing, education, poverty, and lack of opportunity. Defund the police recognizes that people’s interactions with the police are largely due to issues of poverty, lack of opportunity, and institutional racism. Defund the police is based on the understanding that addressing these issues is a better use of community funds. Yet, Brindisi seems determined to not understand this, or to try to keep police forces and unions happy by suggesting community policing is a better model of what reform should look like.
Community policing may look and sound a bit like defund the police. It is designed after all to restore trust in the police, but maybe that’s the problem. We can’t create trust of the police, while ignoring the racism, marginalization, lack of opportunity, and poverty that is at the heart of the problems in society. Our goal has to be, first and foremost, to end institutional racism and build communities where public safety makes everyone safe – including and particularly people of color. Public safety is not just a police force. It includes having a roof over your head, food on the table, good schools for your children to attend, health care for everyone, and an adequate safety net. True public safety starts with ending institutional racism and keeping people of color safe from bad cops.
What Defund the Police is truly all about is the realization that we live in a country that spends more money on social control then on social investment. According to Robert Reich, social control societies perpetuate oppression by focusing spending on police, prisons, the military and immigration control. Social investment societies on the other hand invest in health care, education, housing, childcare and joblessness. A society committed to social investment realizes that this investment decreases oppression, creates opportunity for all, and decreases the anxiety for all people. Amazingly, with social investment there’s less need for control, something many in the US, including Anthony Brindisi, don’t seem to understand.4
In the last forty years, our country has moved toward increasing social control and decreasing social investment. Spending on the police has gone from 42.3 billion dollars in 1977 to 114.5 billion in 2017. Currently, the US spends more on prisons than on schools, with 15 states spending $27,000 more per inmate than per school student.5 It doesn’t take an economist to realize the more we spend for social control, the less there is to actually spend on people, on making sure children have enough to eat, on making sure we can educate everyone, on making sure we have health care, affordable housing, good childcare, and equal opportunities for everyone. We don’t need societal controls given a facelift – through police reform or community policing. The reality is we’ve got our priorities all screwed up. We have to improve our communities for everyone. We have to prove that we believe Black Lives Matter. Anthony Brindisi has to understand this.
Shortly after announcing his support of this bill, Brindisi voted to not limit Trump’s use of the Insurrection Act to use US troops to suppress protesters. It’s hard to know how to understand Brindisi’s actions. Is he courting the conservative Republican vote so much that he has forgotten the values of Democrats within the 22nd District? Is he so concerned with supporting the police that he can’t take a stand for Black Lives Matter and creating a better world through social investment? Is he clueless to what the lives of Biracial, Indigenous, and People of Color within the district are like? Has he not figured out what “Defund the Police” really means? Is he trying to appease everyone by supporting community policing instead of defund the police, which still leaves the power and the extent of reform in the hands of police departments and police unions?
What all of us need, whether we are Black Lives Matter activists, their white allies, or Democrats of conscience, is a Representative that listens to people within this district. What we need is a Representative who can set aside his white male privilege long enough to recognize that people of color face police brutality and institutional racism everyday of their lives. What we need is a Representative who educates himself on racism within our communities, who learns what defund the police means, and who believes that society should practice social investment for everyone’s sake, but particularly for the sake of those who are marginalized or facing racism and oppression. What we need is a Representative who cares about earning the votes of Progressive Democrats, as much as he cares about the votes of conservative Republicans. So where is Anthony Brindisi when it comes to what we need?