EJS Supports Transforming Public Safety

July 20, 2020 – Updated May 25, 2021

We are at a unique moment in our nation’s history. The 2020 pandemic of COVID-19 illuminated the realities of the centuries-old pandemic of structural racism that was only further exposed through the brutal murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd by police officers and White vigilantes. In reflecting on how to respond to calls for defunding police departments and defending Black lives, we at Equal Justice Society acknowledge and affirm the following:

  1. From our inception as an organization over twenty years ago, we have focused on uprooting structural racism through our work on overturning the intent standard, ending disproportionate discipline in schools, repealing Prop 209, providing effective training on implicit bias and structural racism and more.
  2. We have supported the Black Organizing Project’s successful campaign to remove police from schools in Oakland and discussed the impacts of biased policing on communities of color.
  3. The brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, inseparable from the centuries-old pattern of Black people dying at the hands of police officers, has yet again shaken each of us to the core.
  4. While we joined community members in calling for the officers who killed Mr. Floyd to be arrested and charged with murder, we knew that holding the individual officers accountable would not be enough to stop police brutality against Black people. Even throughout the trial and after the conviction of Derek Chauvin, police killings of people of color continued.
  5. We recognized that reforms aimed at curbing police violence, many of which the Minneapolis Police Department had implemented, including anti-bias training and body cameras, had not prevented the officers who killed Mr. Floyd from doing so in broad daylight and on video.
  6. At that time, the Movement 4 Black Lives (“M4BL”) and other grassroots organizations brought to national attention the demand to defund the police as one step toward the vision of abolishing the prison industrial complex and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and incarceration.
  7. This demand came out of decades of visioning, strategizing, and organizing for Black liberation led by individuals, such as Angela Davis, Mariame Kaba, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Patrisse Cullors, and organizations such as Black Youth Project 100.
  8. M4BL and other advocates stressed that policing in the United States has always been a racist institution: from how it was founded in the South in the brutality of slave patrols, to how it has functioned to this day to uphold the dominant social order of white supremacy by disproportionately policing and harming communities of color. The essence of policing in the United States is to reinforce the misguided notion that Black people must “obey” white officers and by implication “obey” white people.
  9. The historically disparate and violent treatment of Black people by police precincts across the country has long been documented. The countless calls for accountability and reformation of police procedures are also well-documented.
  10. Previous attempts to reform police departments have not produced lasting results in part because the very essence of policing is the discretion to use force, discretion that police officers will use in biased ways as long as explicit and implicit racial bias continue to exist in our society.
  11. Police departments nationwide disproportionately target, arrest and murder Black people. Black Americans are three times more likely to be stopped by police, three times more likely to be searched, and almost three-and-a-half times more likely to be shot by police than White Americans.
  12. During the “war on crime” and “war on drugs” era of the Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, state governments and the federal government poured billions of dollars into police departments while slashing funding for critical social services.
  13. This era also ushered in a racialized view of individuals and families receiving government support, specifically targeting Black and immigrant communities despite the fact that White communities participate in assistance programs at higher percentages. Moreover, the Reagan and Clinton “welfare reform” efforts tied “welfare recipients” with criminality.
  14. This era saw the U.S. incarcerated population skyrocket from roughly 300,000 individuals to more than 2 million, disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous and other communities of color, in what is now referred to as mass incarceration.
  15. This era further incentivized the prison industrial complex—the push for mass incarceration through the privatization of prisons and the enormous profits that were gained by prison companies and the many commercial businesses that stood to profit from cheap, exploitative prison labor for their goods production to U.S. markets.
  16. Today police officers are routinely asked to respond to calls that involve non-criminal issues, such as mental health crises, homelessness, addiction and other public health issues, that they do not have the skills and resources to meaningfully address.
  17. Policing cannot address the root causes of harm and crime in our society: the lasting impacts of racist policies that have led to systemic disinvestment from communities of color and the absence of critical social infrastructure that provides access to high quality public education from preschool to college, affordable housing, healthy food, healthcare, mental health treatment, addiction treatment, childcare, youth programs, and access to meaningful life-sustaining employment.
  18. Many of our cities spend half of their entire budgets on policing, such as Oakland which has maintained spending over 40% of its budget on the Oakland Police Departments, despite decades of lawsuits and scandals that the department has been embroiled in, and a concerted local and national push to reduce police budgets.
  19. Defunding police departments in whole or in part will allow cities to invest resources in housing, education, healthcare, mental health services, restorative justice centers, community first responders, and other policies and practices that promote lasting community safety.

With these considerations in mind, we at Equal Justice Society take the following position:

  • We stand with the Movement 4 Black Lives and the thousands of community members locally and nationally calling for the end of police terror.
  • In this unique moment of reckoning around race, we commit to continuing to take bold action toward transformative change.
  • We believe we must reimagine, redefine, and fundamentally transform public safety.
  • We support the movement’s demands for significant divestiture of funds from policing and investment in community care.
  • We especially support investment in low-income Black communities which have been disproportionately harmed by police violence, criminalization, and incarceration.
  • We believe funds diverted from policing should be invested in:
    1. A robust social infrastructure that includes access to employment with meaningful career pathways, affordable housing, quality education, universal healthcare, mental health services, non-coercive drug and alcohol treatment, childcare, youth programs, reentry services, and restorative justice centers, all of which serve to meet real needs in our communities and thus prevent the occurrence of crime.
    2. Community safety models for interrupting and addressing incidents of crime and harm when they occur.
  • We are heartened by new emerging models and practices for community safety that include:
    • Emergency hotline(s) that community members can call instead of 911.
    • Mental health teams, such as MH First in Sacramento, MACRO in Oakland and CAHOOTS in Eugene, that respond to mental health crises with trained mental health personnel.
    • Community care workers who work to address the needs of vulnerable community members by connecting them with services and providing ongoing support.
    • Community peacemakers or violence interrupters, such as those employed by Youth ALIVE! in Oakland, who diffuse tension, mediate conflict, and prevent retaliation in situations of violent conflict.
    • Restorative justice centers where community members can come together to address ongoing issues, resolve conflict, offer circles of support for those reentering after a period of incarceration, and connect to resources.
  • We call for state and local governments, foundations, and private persons to financially support these new models.
  • As new models are implemented and refined over time, we hope to see police officers become the last line of response and not the first, until we arrive at a time when policing as we know it becomes obsolete.
  • We acknowledge that we do not yet have a solution to replace the current police response to all forms of violent crime; however, we seek to explore and learn from those who have contributed to developing community-based alternatives in the hopes of finding a complete alternative to the police.
  • We support the call to “defund” the police as a process of shifting resources away from police and into effective community safety measures, leading eventually to a future when policing as we know it can be completely transformed such that, when what we hope will be much rarer violent acts occur, the response will be both protective of those harmed and threatened, and non-violent and non-carceral toward those who commit such acts.
  • To that end, we commit to supporting demands for reform that meet one or both of the following criteria:
    • Serve to reduce the scale, scope, and power of policing. Examples include decreasing police budgets, reducing the number of police officers, withholding pensions and not re-hiring officers involved in misconduct, capping overtime pay, ending use of military equipment and tactics, and ending qualified immunity, among others.
    • Serve to restrict use of force by police officers already on the force. Examples include banning chokeholds, pinning people face down, and no-knock warrants.
  • For demands or initiatives that do not fall into the categories in Section L., including those related to implicit bias and structural racism training and civilian oversight bodies, we will consider supporting them only if we are satisfied with their intent and potential quality and are part of a structured and timely process toward limiting the size, power, and funding of police or law enforcement departments.
  • When deciding which demands for reforms to lend our support to, we commit to centering the lived experiences of communities most impacted by police violence and following their lead.
  • We know that on the path to transforming public safety, we may be called to question and even transform some of our own beliefs and assumptions.
  • We are guided by a long-term vision for a future in which all people experience lasting safety and have what they need to realize their potential. 
  • We hope to contribute to a just transition from the current system of policing and incarceration that harms so many of us to the new models of safety, justice and transformation that will benefit generations to come.

We commit to taking actions in alignment with our position, which could include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Taking a public stand in support of transforming public safety and explaining the connection between EJS’s mission and the Defund Movement.
  2. Publicly supporting the Defund Movement through various communications activities.
  3. Responding to requests to sign onto demand letters that call for defunding the police and investing in community solutions.
  4. Serving as strategic partners to base-building organizations by offering our legal expertise, connections, or thought partnership.
  5. Calling on other legal organizations to stand with the Defund Movement.
  6. Communicating with national leaders on why it is important to advocate for reforms that move us closer to defunding the police and investing in alternatives, rather than reforms that provide Band-Aid fixes or further legitimize policing in its current form.
  7. Leveraging our position as implicit bias and structural racism experts to counter demands for implicit bias training of police officers as the primary answer to preventing racialized police violence.
  8. Pursuing our current and future work based on the foregoing principles and guidance.