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To reform or to defund: What the future of police and protection could look like

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To reform or to defund: What the future of police and protection could look like

With instances of police brutality being more publicized as of late, combined with ongoing protests, there has been a growing debate about what the police should look like in the future: whether we need to enforce massive reforms, if we need to defund the police fully or partially, or if the goal should be to completely abolish this system.

Around the time when protests first began in Seattle, a petition to decriminalize UW was formed, calling for the UW to break ties with the Seattle Police Department in order to protect our Black communities from police violence instigated both by SPD and the UW Police Department, among other demands. Alongside the UW, colleges across the country are calling on their leadership to divest and defund.

Largely, the questions that this brings up for many people is, who’s going to protect us if we don’t have any police officers? What do you suggest as an alternative?

The “8 Can’t Wait” platform largely calls for police reform — requiring police to give a warning before shooting, for example, or banning chokeholds — and its creators have newly updated the platform to include abolition as a goal. 

The subsequent “8 to Abolition” platform, created by a group of abolitionists after the release of 8 Can’t Wait, looks to take actions to defund the police and create a world where our police system would not be necessary as exemplified by their eighth point, “invest in care, not cops.”

In general, there isn’t one solution we can turn to in creating an alternative to the police, especially when many of our end goals might be a completely different system or a drastically defunded police. As shown by the aforementioned platforms, despite their goals being different, it takes a large amount of change and pushes to create that alternative we need.

But it is imperative that we start pushing for changes now, as protestors have been doing. Our current police presence at the UW — in pattern with the overall United States police — has been damaging to Black communities.

“I was at [Hutchinson Hall] one night, just working on stuff and a police officer entered the building,” graduating senior January Okemgbo said in a direct message. “He walked around the building and then left, but I was tense the entire time, [and] I only felt safe enough because some girls … were in the Hutch lounge with me.”

Though just one anecdote, it’s evident that the UWPD is often associated with fear and uneasiness, rather than protection.

So, what might the future of police — or lack thereof — look like at the UW?

The UW’s SafeCampus program is one that might grow in serving the UW community. SafeCampus is an alternate support system for violence prevention, making it unnecessary to involve the police. According to SafeCampus manager Gillian Wickwire, the program puts a focus on community, compassion, and inclusivity.

“In order to do violence prevention work, we must take into consideration the multiple identities of individuals in our community as violence is predicated on and acted out on those very identities,” Wickwire wrote in an email. “This particular moment within the Black Lives Matter movement offers us the opportunity to re-examine policy, practice, and structure. It is important that those of us in leadership positions listen intently to [Black, Indigenous people of color (BIPOC)] in our communities and make substantive change to the systems and structures that support white supremacy and violence against Black lives.”

Allocating more of the UW’s funding toward services that work to serve the community, with more of a focus on health, is part of the alternatives that many propose. This can also benefit Black communities because of the lack of an aggressive, punitive approach.

“I support UW’s serious consideration of reallocation of funding to better support the needs of our community, specifically with regards to mental health, suicide support and response, and victim advocacy,” Wickwire said. “I also think it is necessary that BIPOC perspective and voices are centered in these conversations and the re-envisioning of the role of law enforcement and other campus resources … SafeCampus is currently assessing how we can better serve BIPOC students, staff, and faculty in our daily practices.”

It is clear that changes are necessary to the whole of the police system, in light of years and years of racial violence and police brutality, but there are a series of alternatives to consider, starting with investing more into the community, rather than stringent policing.

Reach writer Deborah Kwon at wellness@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @debskwo

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