When you talk with people about defunding the police, you usually get a slightly sneering response, “Well, what would you do if someone were breaking into your house? You’d call the police then, right?’ Fair question, mate, but the answer is no, I wouldn’t. I’ll tell you what I would do in a minute. First, I want to share another relevant conversation.
Me: Defund the police.
Rhonda, an 84 year old neighbor: We can’t do that. When I was a child, my father’s store was broken into several times. We always called the police. What else could we do?
Me: And what did the police do for you?
Rhonda: Well, they would write down damage they saw and list what we told them had been stolen.
Me: Did you ever get anything back?
Rhonda: I don’t think so. It was a long time ago, but I don’t remember anything like that. We needed to file a police report for the insurance company to reimburse us.
Aha! Rhonda’s story is a perfect example of all the things we have police do that could be better done by someone else. A clerk could have taken that report, or a community worker. Why do we arm police to the teeth and train them in military operations when we want them to take reports or keep a depressed person from killing themselves? We need social workers, mental health people, secretaries, homeless services, people with food. Yes, there are criminals, and gangs of criminals, but have the police stopped any of that? Or have they just imprisoned millions of people while gangs spread and become more violent?
Which brings me to answer the title question: What would I do if someone was breaking into my house? It depends on who they were. I might scream at them to get out; I might get my gun; I might offer them food. I might call my neighbors; I might call my family. I consistently tell people: ‘Never call the police unless you’re willing for someone to get shot, possibly you.’
Of course, if you don’t know your neighbors, don’t have a weapon and don’t have family, your options will be more limited. And even if you do know neighbors, you need to have talked with them about mutual aid before a crisis situation arises. Otherwise they’ll just call the cops for you and someone might still get shot. If a violent home invader comes in, and you don’t have anyone nearby to call, you might have to call the police. That’s why it’s good to prepare, by talking to neighbors and having their phone numbers ready. Think about how many other situations where neighbors you can count on would help, and how you can also help them.
Also consider having a gun or other weapon and knowing how to use it and be safe with it.
“Defunding the police” doesn’t mean cutting their budgets by 90% right now. 50% might be a good start, because we need time to organize our communities for self-defense. 90% might be a good goal. We don’t need highly-paid, heavily armed men patrolling our neighborhoods to terrorize our youth and keep everyone in line at taxpayer expense. That kind of policing only defends the rich against the rest of us. That’s why I prefer the slogan ‘Disarm the police’. Nothing against police as people; I just don’t want them killing us.
The one place we need some kind of law enforcement might be with drunk or reckless drivers. They need to be off the road. Traditionally, though, police would stop a drunk driver, or a drunk person walking toward their car, and if they were well-off ‘respected’ men, might drive them home. Poor folks and people of color might have been treated far worse, but the non-punishing approach is what we would want from police in a humane society.
Other than that, why would we need armed police? In rare situations where a gun might be necessary, they could go get one, as they do in England. Community workers responding to domestic violence complaints might need armed backup on rare occasions, but backup workers could wait in the car.
The same concepts apply to prisons. How can it possibly make sense to lock up millions of people for nonviolent offenses or for crimes of poverty? We spend billions of dollars every year unnecessarily destroying people’s lives for no social benefit, at great social cost. I’m not saying let everyone go free, unsupervised, right away, but 90% of prisoners could easily be freed, if there was community support and supervision for them. These alternatives to incarceration would cost less than prisons and would heal whole communities.
It’s time the “home of the brave” stopped living in fear of each other. How did our society come to rely so thoroughly on force and punishment? Why are we isolated from each other, instead of protecting each other? I think it reflects our rulers fear of us. That’s why their media constantly promotes fear of each other. ‘What if they break into my house?’ is the question they want to keep at the center of our daily lives, but we’ll all be safer if we let go of it.