Sunday, March 28, 2021

Re-Funding the Peace

Re-funding the peace is the question I hope to address this week because it’s an important one with national implications.  Remember the time (some 70-80 years ago) when cops were called “peace officers?” There were stories of people who’d worked as peace officers who set up after school rec programs for kids, those kids we now call “at risk.”  I met one of those, driving a New York cab.  After his tour in Viet Nam that’s the work he did—until  he got “laid off” and now he was driving a cab.  He got laid off because at that point (the 80s) the peace keeping culture in the police academy had begun to change as law enforcement bent more and more toward militarization. My cabbie had come home from the My Lai massacre, and he told me about that too, where the order to “waste ‘’em” had come from the Colin Powell High Command. 


My Lai massacre

For decades, U.S. wars had targeted civilians. At home, such people had always been considered fair game. Whereas prior warfare against minorities, workers, and slaves had been massaged in the usual law enforcement hypocrisy, a more violent form of warfare became the militarized practice we have come to know today. Adding fuel to the fire came not much later, when municipal police began training with the IDF, both here, and in apartheid Israel. This information is now internet blocked prompting me to copy/paste the link here:

But already in the ‘70s, there were cries of resistance. One of them is exemplified in a letter written by Tom Glen, a 21-year old soldier assigned to the 11th Light Infantry Brigade who described an ongoing and routine brutality against Vietnamese civilians. It’s important enough to quote:

            It would indeed be terrible to find it necessary to believe that an American soldier that harbors such racial intolerance and disregard for justice and human feeling is a prototype of all American national character; yet the frequency of such soldiers lends credulity to such beliefs….What has been outlined here I have seen not only in my own unit, but also in others we have worked with, and I fear it is universal. If this is indeed the case, it is a problem which cannot be overlooked, but can through a more firm implementation of the codes of MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) and the Geneva Conventions, perhaps be eradicated.”

Fast forward to the Oscar Grant, Travon Martin, Michael Brown era when finally with the murder of George Floyd, what had been a sporadic eruption of demonstrations became a full fledged nation-wide conflagration of revulsion. A conflagration where the nightly demonstrations in Portland became the rehearsal for militarized police-civilian warfare and for the insurgency of Jan. 6th in D.C.


No caption can put a  name on this

As is often the case, Oakland led with the APTP (Anti-Police-Terror Project) which began almost as soon as  BLM came to the fore The umbrella of APTP at that time was already wide enough to include people of all colors, and was headed usually by a white and black facilitator; that black facilitator was usually Cat Brooks who rose to prominence when she ran for Oakland mayor in 2018, opposing Libby Schaaf. A good speaker, she bore the facial expression of someone who’s had enuf, with a drawn “Can’t Take It Anymore” expression on her time-worn face. Even then, the organization had a rapid response arm, organized to come to the aid of families whose sons or daughters had been the victims of police violence and who needed support and counseling.


Some five years ago, the APTP birthed the Defund Police movement, creating the current coalition of 12 community BIPOC organizations, centered around Refunding, Restoring and Reimagining Public Safety in Oakland, Ca.  The Coalition pressed the City Council to form a Task Force to redirect police funding by 50% to support programs more closely aligned with public safety.  According to APTP (See report):  “The task force was created in direct response to significant local demand to redirect monies from the Oakland Police Department to programs, support services, and resources that take a holistic view of public safety and focus on addressing the root causes of so-called “crime” rather than relying on militarized policing and a violent and cyclical carceral state.”


None of this would have gotten off the ground without the step by step process underlying its advancement. The City Council, responding to the APTP-headed coalition’s demands, agreed to consider alternatives to traditional policing. It appointed a Task Force and assembled Advisory Boards (ABs) of several hundred volunteers to help advise it. The ABs researched issues focused on alternatives to the current function and structure of Oakland Police Department (OPD), including OPD services and their costs. Among specific topics researched were an analysis of 911 calls as well as the effects of de-criminalizing what is currently criminalized.


Based on their months-long research efforts, the ABs recommended a list of services better handled outside of OPD that would increase Public Safety for all Oaklanders.  Recommendations included: A Mental Health Hotline and Mental health services, providing housing, food security, medical care, education, decriminalization of drug and sex work, youth and transitional age services, instituting reparative justice in place of punishment, and more. The recent unanimous vote of the Oakland City Council to introduce a new model for mental health emergency response known as MACRO shifting 911 response away from the police department is an early outcome of this effort.


The final list of AB recommendations were presented to the City Council appointed Task Force. The Task Force studied them, discussed and modified some of them with public and AB input, and voted on a final list to present to the Oakland City Council for discussion and approval. The process by which the City Council will move forward with the Task Force’s list of recommendations is yet unknown. as is role OPD will play in this process. Regardless of the outcomes of this process in Oakland, the move towards increasing public safety through Defunding Police and Refunding and Re-Investing in Communities will  have a lasting and positive impact locally and nationally.


We recommend reading the full report to see the specific recommendations, the research supporting them, and their expected impact on increasing Public Safety.

The Medium is The Message 


Can we trust the APTP report? Unlike so many initiatives of this kind, where most are developed while completely overlooking or excluding the populations they are intended to serve., the very people the recommendations are designed to impact served in the initial committees. Committees focused on specific areas of concern, For example, there were committees comprised of or led by Oaklanders who have been unhoused, school dropouts, formerly incarcerated, unemployed/ under- employed, and victims of violence. Some were populated by solely by youth. Members also cut across the economic and educational spectrum. Importantly, members of ABs were a true reflection of the black, brown, yellow, white, mixed race, multi-ethnic, gender, and ability diverse communities in Oakland, a stunning example of true Democracy at work.


My colleague and companion in arms who worked as one member of such a committee described the process as very moving. “I have to say I am humbled by the process. Although I worked on part of  [it], months of collecting information, analyzing it, synthesizing it, and writing about it with my working group cohorts, the scope of this effort and its impact is amazing. This work will replace policing not reform it; it eliminates the need for historically punitive regulations. In its place will grow services communities need to become healthy and safe places for their members.”


 “[It] will be another step towards ending the endless war on communities at home that have targeted BIPOC for so long.…It will further link the anti war movement, with its historic focus on wars abroad, to domestic struggles [at home] which are no different …. We use weapons of mass destruction abroad; policing and imprisonment at home. Both at home and abroad we destroy, devastate, displace and kill; we attack those who rebel. These wars are about subjugation, dominance, accumulation of wealth and power, humiliation, and furtherance of racist, ethnocentric, anti-gender, and anti-able policies and practices.”


Oakland’s initiative has legs.  It has the potential of reviving life in our dying cities as well as in ignored rural areas. It can be applied nationwide if they will only make use of its far-reaching insights, and applied to their own circumstances.


REALLOCATE Pentagon budget.

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