The pews of the neighborhood church were packed full of anxious, concerned faces waiting to hear from known leaders in their community about what has become the very serious issue of policing. Sharon Kyle, publisher of the LA Progressive, began her job as moderator with a PowerPoint presentation on the history of policing in the U.S.
In the 1800s, the U.S. did not have a resident domestic police forces. Due to the institution of slavery, there came a point where enslaved Africans outnumbered white Americans and slave masters. These slavers had legitimate reasons to be afraid, especially due to the multiple slave rebellions, including that of Nat Turner. Due to these fears and uprising, slave patrols were formed.
Concurrently, as a result of the industrial revolution in England, people were owning businesses and earning wages for the first time. The cyclical effect of capitalism caused an obvious distinction in the business class and the lower class. It was then that police were hired to control the state, protect the rich and reduce class conflict.
“Police were never meant to protect and serve,” Kyle said. “It was about controlling the masses and protecting the property of the elites.”
Following her presentation on Tuesday, September 13, Kyle introduced her panel for the evening, which consisted of Lloyd Wilkey of Diverse City Consulting, Adrienna Wong of the Southern California ACLU and Dr. Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter-LA.
The panel was called on to discuss and debate the different methods for dealing with police violence and the current state of policing in the community. Kyle began the debate by stating, what she believes, is a major part of the problem.
“In the mid 1960’s President Johnson signed legislation that provided funds to local police and then we see the beginnings of the militarization of police,” she said. “We have police departments that look like they’re occupying the nation, they look like military.”
Wilkey spends once or twice a week doing diversity training with army recruits and police officers. Since the early ‘90s he was concerned with violence in general and wanted to do what he could to contribute to violence prevention. He then became certified as a trainer in de-escalation and arrest control techniques.
“I’m now a candidate for the civilian oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department,” Wilkey said. “There is going to be civilian oversight for the LA county sheriffs and I’ve been trying to get in where I fit in and lend my support to the movement in any way I can, by interfacing directly with police officers.”
Adrienna Wong of the ACLU spoke of the organization taking an integrated approach to addressing a variety of policing issues and police abuses.
“Recently I’ve been involved in a bit of criminal litigation against the statute the police use to arrest people for simply challenging their authority,” Wong said. “You can’t arrest someone simply for speaking and the goal is to get police to stop arresting people who don’t represent any danger to the public safety.”
Wong spoke of a pattern of sadistic hazing with tasers by police in the San Bernardino County Jail that her organization is currently filing suit over. Wong is also currently involved in a lawsuit against city of Hesperia to challenge a police program that the ACLU believes is a form of housing discrimination.
Melina Abdullah, perhaps the most outspoken member of the panel espoused her belief in the complete abolition of modern policing as we know it.
“We believe not in reform, but in complete transformation of the public safety system,” Abdullah said. “Because if we understand policing, as a system that has been allowed to grow and evolve and operate in ways that are oppressive to our community, we can’t certainly respond to each individual instance of police violence, we have to address the overarching system.”
Abdullah’s belief in abolishing the police stems from her personal experiences with police since joining the movement. She spoke of being involved in a 54-day occupation of city hall and criticized Mayor Eric Garcetti for only being at city hall five out of the 54 days that they encamped there. She also cited statistics that show that the LAPD kills more people every year than every other major city, including New York City, which has double the population of LA.
“We’ve been engaged in trying to build a sustainable movement to end this falsity of public safety and we need to be very clear that police don’t make communities safer,” Abdullah said.
“Every major study shows that if you really want to create safe communities, you do things like create livable wage jobs, mental health resources, provide permanent housing, after school programs and those sorts of things that actually create safe communities. Police are not even in that equation.”
Abdullah is in famous company, as actor Mark Ruffalo sent a tweet asking President Obama to defund police departments back in July. Wilkey commented that he agreed with most of what had been said, however he believed that policing is only a part of an entire cycle.
“Policing is just a part of the big web of stuff that’s oppressing us so it’s not just police, there’s that big system that needs to be addressed,” he said. “I take an all of the above approach in participating in activities that are trying to work with the system, but I’m also on the outside of the system to bring attention to the places where oppression is.”
Kyle mentioned that community members in Oakland were developing their own strategy to deal with issues where police are usually called, because they refused to call police. Based on this, Kyle wondered how to maintain safety while touting the belief of disarming, defunding and demilitarizing police.
“I don’t have all the answers, but there are ideas we’d like to work towards and we’re currently engaged in what we call ‘Three-to-One’ campaigning,” Abdullah said.
“Community resources and workers are a much more effective way to build safe communities, than are police and studies out of Watts and South LA with peacemakers, shows that intervention workers and prevention workers are 10 times more effective at reducing crime in the areas where they work instead of police.”
The campaign Abdullah cites states these strategies when used to prevent gang violence were the most effective use of funds and that they want to shift that money. Abdullah stated that they could hire three prevention and intervention workers for every one police officer, even after doubling their current salary.
“We want to spend on things that are effective, spend on things that are visionary and divest from policing,” she said.
Although there were many different beliefs and solutions being debated on the panel, all participants agreed that the money being spent on policing was too much and needed to be reduced.
For the 2016 LA budget, the LAPD takes up 54 percent of the city budget meaning that more than half of the entire year’s budget goes to policing.
Abdullah stated that this was a misuse of funds and the least effective way of keeping communities safe. She further stated that overinvesting in police actually made black and brown communities, and areas with people with mental health challenges more dangerous.
“After the shootings in Dallas, the police chief there put out calls for more investments in policing and how police should be providing mental health assistance, teaching young people and getting involved in after-school programs,” Abdullah said.
“We say that police aren’t equipped to do that kind of work because they’re not even equipped to actually police right now. They’re doing a horrible job of protecting and serving and they need to get out of the areas where some of us actually have expertise and give that money to teachers, mental health workers and interventionists and prevention workers.”