The “Defund the Police” movement has gained serious momentum following the public unrest after the murder of George Floyd. Before we can unpack the public perception of this movement, we first need to acknowledge the way we absorb new information at face value in a society that receives most of their news from social media sites.
Social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, have quickly become the most trusted yet least verified news platforms in the world. These agencies provide an opportunity to empower marginalized voices when utilized responsibly, but in the midst of fury and frustration we have failed to exercise caution and accountability in the way we approach information that can be easily dismissed as “radical.” All we need is a headline and an image to make a decision on whether or not we agree with an idea. Opening the article or seeking additional information has become a tiresome and unnecessary burden. If the headline is appealing, we share it. If the image strikes us, we post it without second thought. The immediacy of our assessment of the subject matter happens naturally and instantaneously, not unlike the way we assess a person’s attractiveness or the color of the walls upon entering a room.
With this undeniably whimsical approach to our civic contributions to social media (news), you may notice a shift in the blatancy of this article’s title. While the titles of my previous columns have been mostly academic in nature, expect future headlines to provide more standalone value so as to capitalize on the first (and sometimes only) opportunity to deliver a message. Such is the process of learning how to “write both effectively and affectively” (Dr. Ricardo Cortez Cruz, English Department Chair, Illinois State University).
I recognize that some will read this article in its entirety, digest its contents, and encourage others to do the same, but it would be ignorant not to assume that most viewers will only be exposed to this article’s title and thumbnail image. Some might even share the article on social media without first reading its material to see if they agree. Having acknowledged the recklessness of our content consumption, it is important to take advantage of the one chance writers have to provide information and, ideally, influence readers to further inform themselves on the topic.
So I’ll say it again, for those in the back, and for those who lack the ability, tools, or desire to gather information independently and responsibly…
Defund the Police does not mean abolish the police.
Defund the Police means the reallocation of finances to programs and organizations that bolster the peaceful effectiveness of law enforcement. Defund the Police calls for greater dependency n social workers, mental health counselors, and human resources. Defund the Police encourages our society to reevaluate the way we approach “law and order” and consider where reformation is desperately needed. The movement begs for the establishment of a society that feels safe rather than scared when they notice a police officer behind them.
I believe all of these details to be urgent, necessary, and long overdue. Defund the Police is the core of the peaceful protesting that has transpired since the public decided they had seen enough on May 25, 2020. It is simultaneously the sadistic spawn of other violent, misguided acts of protest such as rioting, looting, and arson. It is the polarizing call to action that US citizens need, even if they can’t yet recognize what it means for them.
The cry for police reformation has gone without response for decades, after the murder of Rodney King in 1991, Oscar Grant in 2009, Eric Garner in 2014, and now George Floyd in 2020. The movement to deescalate and disarm the police is progressive, well-intentioned, and could potentially save the lives of people who stand in opposition to its cause. Why, then, is the topic so divisive?
Because the phrase, “Defund the Police” sounds bad.
We spent the first part of this article admitting and acknowledging that we absorb news reactively and share information casually. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we still do it. “Defund the Police” is a perfect showcase for why it is critically important to title movements and headlines purposefully and in a way that elicits a desired response. First impressions must be admirable and easy to digest, as is the desired response of a woman’s makeup or a wall’s neutral color.
If the strong intentions of a movement aren’t inherently easy to navigate, American culture will find a way to botch the the desired response. Our society is so naturally divisive that if there is any room for an oppositional stance to blossom, it will. We saw this when Colin Kapernick kneeled for the National Anthem, when Black Lives Matter was met with All/Blue Lives Matter, and when wearing a mask to shield our nation from a deadly pandemic was met with resistance and denial.
The worst part is that the Defund the Police movement is so close to a complete breakthrough. At a time when the movement needs every voice of support it can get, it would be so valuable if the tagline were more comprehensible.
What I mean is, the title, “Refund the Police” (or even more accurately, “Reform the Police”) is exponentially more approachable. It inspires curiosity rather than disgust. Instead of provoking instant rejection, it invites wonder and a desire for more information. Headlines such as these allow us to engage with progressive policies before forming a biased opinion that stems from a reactive emotional response. __________________________________________________________________________________________
This small alteration to the title of the Defund the Police movement would greatly improve the optics of the movement’s intentions. It clarifies the movement from being an emotional, dramatic, and impulsive response to a carefully planned step in the right direction. With the perception given by the movement’s current title, it should be no surprise why some audiences interpret the idea of defunding the police as reckless.
The word defund means to withdraw, prevent, or deny support.
The word reform means to make changes to something in order to improve it.
Both words accurately describe the desires of nation-wide protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. But one carries a negative connotation, while the other maintains an assumption of positivity. But by now the movement’s title has become so recognizable, it is difficult to revert original biases.
Here’s the truth about defunding:
- Your children’s school has been defunded for years.
- Your art programs, creative outlets, musical opportunities, and public outreach have been defunded for years.
- Your healthcare and retirement plans have been defunded for years.
But so far, the response to defunding the police has been cautious and speculative at best, and at worst outright dismissed. The movement’s proposals may eventually see some level of progress, but hopefully it also incites a realization that the above programs are actually being defunded.
The too-long-didn’t-read version is this: No one is calling for the complete removal of law enforcement. We won’t be defenseless when we are assaulted, robbed, or in danger, because the career of a police officer will coexist with society until the end of time. But there are ways in which we can make improvements and alterations that are easily identified and desperately needed. The reason this movement’s good nature isn’t transparent is because its title is misleading and difficult to comprehend.
I recognize that this article is somewhat of a tangent on the title of the “Defund the Police” movement without exploring much of the information about the movement’s desires and proposals. I feel that this topic deserves to be an article on its own with respect to the weight of the information. I’ll be writing a more informative infographic column like this soon, but for now here are more avenues to become informed on the movement’s authentic intentions:
- 8 Can’t Wait
- Article: Explanation of Defund the Police
- 1-minute video: Explanation of Defund the Police
- 7-minute video: John Oliver/Jimmy Fallon discuss Defunding the Police
- Interactive site: Mapping police violence
Stay safe, stay healthy, and #DefundThePolice
June 23, 2020