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To add value to Black communities, we must defund the police and prison systems

In black-majority cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, and most of the 12 budgets allocated more than a quarter of general funds to policing. Of the cities and counties profiled, Oakland gives police the 41%. Da Brookings.

The Minneapolis Police Department’s murder of George Floyd epitomizes what Black taxpayers have never truly received: quality law enforcement. Black people are overrepresented in stops, arrests, convictions, and deaths at the hands of police. The failure to prosecute murderous police typifies a bad overall track record with solving violent crimes: Approximately 38% of murders, 66% of rapes, 70% of robberies, and 47% of aggravated assaults go uncleared every year.

Given the magnitude of the expenditures allocated to police departments and incarceration in municipal and state budgets at the expense of services that prevent crime (not to mention the human cost to the community), it’s an understatement to say that Black communities are not getting adequate returns on their tax dollars.

As COVID-19 forces cities and states to restrict their budgets, governments must prioritize helping people find themselves in healthier living arrangements and in a job with a living wage—rather than sick, behind bars, or dead. This will require investments that increase economic mobility, not in services that literally arrest it.

As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” If we want more economic mobility and protection from COVID-19, we have to invest in systems that drive toward those ends. Money for that must come from the systems that throttle economic mobility: policing and prisons.

Policing hamstrings municipal governments

States play a small role in financing policing, mostly through highway patrols. Instead, most police spending occurs at the municipal level (86% in 2017), according to the Urban Institute. Because of this decentralized funding structure, defunding the police will mean paying particular attention to those municipalities whose budgets show the most egregious imbalances between police and community improvement expenditures.

2017 report by the Center for Popular Democracy, Law for Black Lives, and Black Youth Project 100 examined the budgets of 12 major U.S. cities and counties over the last three decades. They found that funding dedicated to incarceration, corrections, and policing has come at the expense of infrastructure spending, mental health services, housing subsidies, youth programs, food benefits programs, and other basic services that Black communities desperately need. Black-majority cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit, and Oakland, Calif. far exceeded the average for police funding, and most of the 12 budgets allocated more than a quarter of general funds to policing. Of the cities and counties profiled, Oakland gives police the largest slice of the pie: 41%.

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