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Defund the police?

One of the burning social issues in the USA these days is the call and movement to “defund the police” because of the actions of some of America’s policemen that have been brought to the fore by social media and the ubiquity of phone cameras and CCTV footages.

The avalanche started with the murder of George Floyd by white cop Derek Chauvin who felt it necessary to use lethal force by pinning the 46-year-old black man’s neck with a knee as he gasped for breath for more than 9 minutes. Mr. Chauvin and three other officers involved in the death were fired and charged with a variety of crimes. Mr. Floyd’s death in May 2020 sparked nationwide protests against police brutality.

On April 20, 2021, Mr. Chauvin was found guilty of second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter.

Many other incidents of police brutality leading to deaths and racism have surfaced since then and the police system of the USA has come under fire as demands for reform snowballed.

If it’s any consolation for Americans, they are lucky because their killer cops are now being caught, fired, tried and convicted. Here in the Philippines, they can still pretty much get away with anything they want to do. We may have no racism here but the unfounded accusations of being involved in the illegal drug trade and Red-tagging makes their problem with racism seem like a minor problem.

America has George Floyd, the Philippines has Kian Delos Santos. They protested and rioted across more than 150 American cities, leading to a nationwide racial justice movement not seen since the civil rights protests of the 1960s. As for Filipinos, we complained a bit, but eventually accepted the fact that this government wasn’t interested in protecting our rights from evil cops and given the tools available to them, Kian’s life just wasn’t worth risking our lives for.

“Defund the police” is their slogan that calls for divesting funds from police departments and reallocating them to non-policing forms of public safety and community support such as social services, youth services, housing, education, healthcare and other community resources. Activists who support this movement often argue that investing in community programs could provide a better crime deterrent. It is an idealistic view of society that has difficulty getting the support of the country’s decision makers but if you come to think of it, police would be unnecessary in Utopia so it is still something all societies should work for.

I don’t think defunding the police is a good idea at this point in human civilization but demanding for them to step up and making them more accountable would be nice. Any society cannot have killer cops. Not the likes of Derek Chauvin, not the likes of Senior Master Sgt. Jonel Nuezca who shot his two neighbors in cold blood in Pampanga in December 2020. We cannot have abusive cops who break into homes of the Red-tagged in the dead of night, armed with dubious search warrants, looking to shoot first and ask questions later, instead of upholding the sanctity of the law they swore to defend. We cannot have cops who snatch cellphones from protesters, who know they can break traffic laws because they feel like pooping, or those who can have their own mañanitas during a pandemic without fear of punishment because they are apparently the law.

Police reform is something all people should demand in any society because while we need cops to keep us safe from unsavory elements, there is a lot of improvement needed on their end. They need to know the law and be accountable for their actions. They need to improve their investigative skills. There needs to be a system that allows them to do their job properly, preventing crime by putting criminals in jail after gathering the necessary evidence that will stand up in a court of law. They cannot be encouraged to be judge, jury and executioner because that is not their job. What makes police reform in the Philippines so difficult is that it must include an overhaul of the entire criminal justice system.

In a country where the police do not know who exactly they are serving and protecting, police reform becomes a monumental task. Until it becomes crystal clear that they serve the community and not one person or a cabal, it might be better for a society to simply defund their police.

Unfortunately for us, that decision belongs to the same people who are turning the police into their own private army so there is not much incentive for them to change the status quo.*

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