Juneteenth to Defunding the Police: The Civil War Continued

By: Anushka Joshi

On June 19th, 1865, the federal troops arrived in Texas to announce that all enslaved people were freed. Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, yet it is still not recognized as a federal holiday. Six months prior to Juneteenth, in January of 1865, the 13th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in order to formally abolish slavery in the United States. It reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The fine print explains that slavery is abolished unless the party is punished/convicted for a crime. Subsequently, the exploitation and oppression of Black bodies still exists, and is reflected in the American incarceration system.

Police in their honest form are an extension of slavery in the United States. At inception, the police were designed to be “slave patrol” in order to control the enslaved population. This system disproportionately targets and imprisons Black men. One out of four Black males will serve prison time at one point or another in their lives. Not only does this prison industrial complex continuously drown Black men and tear families apart, but it is a pure example that America values financial capital over human capital and rights. Prisons, and specifically private for-profit prisons, make billions of dollars each year. 25% of the world's prisoners are in the United States. Oppression is America’s business model--and it always has been.

Over 150 years later this country still fights for true liberation. Recent events have called to defund the police. To some this may seem like an extreme solution, but it is the only way for this country to move forward. It takes 880 training hours to become a police officer, and 1,500 to become a barber. In 2019, U.S. police officers killed more than 1,000 citizens, and 99% of those officers were not charged. Police receive more funding than the amount required to end homelessness, hunger, and free tuition in the U.S. Instead, the money is spent on militarized weapons and protective gear, fueling violent behavior.

By defunding the police, it reduces the police budgets (and power) and reinvests that money into communities and programs that need uplifting. Reforming the broken policing system would cost more money and offers to treat symptoms rather than address the root of the issue. Instead, we must dismantle and create new alternatives to policing. Police power has expanded over the years, specifically in poor communities of color. This modern day slavery hides behind terms such as “war on crime” and the “war on drugs”. Poor communities of color are targeted, and are torn apart instead of built up. I am horrified that when kids from my hometown would get in trouble for doing drugs, they are quickly whisked away to rehabilitative facilities and schools in Montana or any other serene state––yet, in other communities, trouble at school or getting caught with the same “Friday night fun” activities is a first stroke with the justice system, and frequently ends childhood.

A budget is a moral document that decides what we value in society. At a local government level we have to create budgets for the people. That means funding affordable housing, healthcare, green spaces, counselors, after-school programs, trauma services, and anti-violence programs––anything to cultivate an environment where people are meant to thrive and feel supported. This next chapter doesn’t end with reinvesting into communities. As individual community members, how can we keep our cities safe? As described by Chanice McClover-Lee (@ChaniceALee), community alternatives to policing require all community members to step up, learn, and engage to keep our communities safe. We must learn how to conflict mediate, practice restorative justice, become trained street medics, and develop crisis networks with each other. Change policy, but we must change as people too.