People use words and phrases to persuade us, not with the truth, but with feeling comfortable. If it sounds good, we want to believe it. As long as what gets said doesn’t fall in to the “too good to be true” category, alarms do not go off, and words lull us down the path laid out for us.
Let me give you a small example of what I mean so that you can try to be on the lookout for it in the big scale. Think of this as another critical thought exercise.
In my local area, an investment advisor firm advertises for its services. To persuade people to invest with them, they point out the differences between their competition and themselves. To paraphrase, “The other guys make money whether you do well or not. At our firm, when you do well, so do we.” Or words to that effect.
You see what they did there, right? The two statements sound like they are conflicting, but they can both co-exist. Making money when someone does well does not preclude someone form making money even if the person’s investments do not do well. Since both phrases can co-exist, they both can be true for the firm and its competitors. Which, in fact, they are.
Investment advisors usually charge fees in the form of a percentage of the assets under management. They make more money if the portfolio has increased in value. However, they still will charge a fee even if the portfolio value decreases. They just get less out of the deal. They still get something however.
The firm doing the advertisement, like its competitors, will charge you a fee whether your portfolio does well or not. The competitors, like the firm, will get more money if your portfolio does better, than if you portfolio tanks. Both statements are true for the firm and its competitors.
The ad tells the truth but dresses it up to make the audience uncomfortable with the first statement and comforted by the second. The ad paints a picture of contrasting practices where there are none, and it technically told the truth while doing so.
How we perceive the words describing a thing matters a great deal to our reception of the thing. Right now people cry out “defund the police” or “abolish the police.” The phrases sound shocking to white, middle-class suburbanites, and so many reject them out of hand. They are meant to shock us out of complacency. And they describe a reality for people of color and white, middle-class suburbanites alike. Rejecting them without first finding out what is behind them is the ploy of those trying to make us uncomfortable with Black voices. We need to listen instead.
As pointed out by Josie Duffy Rice in a Twitter thread, most whites in suburbia already live in a world largely without the police. That sounds weird, right, because people in the suburbs see police cars and pass police stations all the time. But the police presence in white suburban lives is relatively low. And crime often is too, the result of different priority structures and resource allocation as well as lack of extreme poverty. As many of those advocating for “defunding the police” have pointed out, if you are wondering what a world with defunded police looks like, it already exists in suburbia.
Due to different experiences, African-Americans see law enforcement very differently from the average white suburbanite. Law enforcement has been used as a tool of suppression and oppression of African-Americans from the outset. That did not change with the end of slavery. It did not end with the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Thus, African-Americans have ample reason to see the police presence in their lives not as helpful but as one of risk and danger. African-American communities have learned to distrust the police out of self-preservation. So that they chose the phrase “defund the police” or “abolish the police” makes perfect sense when viewed from the lens of African-American experience.
Whether it confuses or turns off white Americans does not matter. Rather than rejecting something because it makes one feel uncomfortable, we must look beyond the surface to find out what is meant.
Largely, the proposed reforms call for reprioritizing and restructuring community resources in a way that better addresses the needs of the community. That means to stop applying law enforcement as a one-size-fits-all-solution to every problem the community faces. Poverty, mental health, drug addiction, homelessness, stray animals, and other community concerns can be better addressed by specialists trained to handle those issues, leaving the police to focus on the tasks for which they were originally trained. It means less money for police department budgets, because police will not be called upon to address so many diverse community issues that have nothing to do with law enforcement.
It can mean that the money allocated to police departments can be more wisely spent on things police need to address their law enforcement mandate, including better de-escalation training, counseling and support resources for officers and, if appropriate, better pay. It means more accountability for police behavior, which will make the communities safer and police more trusted. It means replacing a system that currently protects bad cops, with a system that rewards good cops and discourages bad behavior. All of this not only helps the communities; it helps makes police safer too.
There are a lot of nuances and different theories meant when someone calls for defunding or abolishing the police. Before rejecting what is being said, look behind words and phrases and find out what is meant. Judge things based on what they actually are, not the perception.