Racism, from subtle to overt, has existed at every level of American society since our nation’s inception. It was embedded in our Constitution by our Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave owners, who declared that slaves should be counted as only three-fifths of a person.
Even though slavery was abolished by Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation, segregation and discrimination became the norm in the American way of life after the Civil War and judicially affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1896 decision, Plessy v. Ferguson.
Although the Supreme Court overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine in the 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education, it has become clear that despite the apparent strides toward racial equality that have been made in the past 66 years, so little actually has changed.
Tragically, it has taken the brutal death-by-suffocation of a 46 year-old African-American man, George Floyd, at the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis to bring to the eyes of every American the gross discrepancy between the uniquely American ideal that, “All men are created equal” and the stark reality of life today for persons of color who comprise most of our country’s permanent underclass.
To be sure, the shockingly inhumane treatment by police officers of minority suspects (and even non-suspects) in the past few years has highlighted the racism that continues to exist in many police departments across the country.
There also have been instances of police brutality and over-reaction during these past two weeks against mostly-peaceful demonstrators.
But the reality is that the vast majority of police officers have acted in a completely professional manner during this trying period, as most of them always do.
Yes, there are a few who became police officers for the wrong reasons, but the vast majority of our police force is comprised of men and women who want to make a positive impact in their communities and take a great deal of pride in doing so.
The movement underway in some parts of our country to “defund” police departments is, in our view, a shortsighted effort to scapegoat the police for the shortcomings of our society as a whole, especially among the white liberal class, for whom “blaming the cops” is a convenient means for absolving themselves of personal responsibility for the glaring inequality that exists in America in 2020.
Our rank-and-file police officers are underpaid (their starting salaries are barely able to afford the rent for an apartment) and they are asked to perform a myriad of duties far beyond mere law enforcement, especially when dealing with persons who are mentally ill or who have substance abuse issues — and let’s not even get started on domestic calls.
It also is ludicrous to cut funding for our police departments when there are 300 million guns, many of which are military-grade, in the hands of private citizens, many of whom either are members of radical groups or who individually subscribe to radical beliefs.
To be sure, there are fundamental reforms that need to be undertaken in police departments all across the country to eliminate policies that are racist in their effect. There also must be a commitment to ensure swift accountability for officers who break the rules.
But the same is true for every aspect of American life in both the private and public sectors. The racism that is systemic in many of our nation’s police departments is a reflection of the racism that pervades every nook and cranny of our society from top to bottom. Unless our nation’s leaders and our people are committed to bringing about real change at every level of our society — and contributing vast resources in order to alleviate police from the burdens of dealing with drug users and those with mental health issues — we are deluding ourselves if we think that “defunding” our police will accomplish much of anything toward the goal of achieving a more just and more equal society.