“More than anything, however, what we really need is to rethink the role of police in society. The origins and function of the police are intimately tied to the management of inequalities of race and class. The suppression of workers and the tight surveillance and micromanagement of Black and brown lives have always been at the center of policing.” — Alex Vitale, in “The Limits of Police Reform”

During the Montclair Township Council meeting on Aug.10, one of the callers made the following remarks in support of the Montclair Police Department, and of police more broadly: “Nationally, we’re experiencing a plague, not only of disease but of unchecked violence in the streets. Police put their lives on the line for the most vulnerable citizens each and every day.”

Regrettably, but not unexpectedly, these tired arguments are circulating around town as well as around the country in large part due to our corporate-driven political discourse and our unsettling lack of political education.

Simply and irrevocably put — the police do not prevent harm (although they do kill more than 1,000 more people each year than they did two decades ago, according to FatalEncounters.org, which compiles statistics based on public records, news reports and other sources).

As Project Nia states in their excellent Defund Police video:

“The truth is police don’t do what most people think they do. Police spend more than half of their time responding to non-criminal calls and traffic issues. And only 1-3% of their time responding to violent crime calls.” That’s backed up by a 2020 analysis published in the New York Times, based on statistics from 10 police agencies with publicly available data. “Police don’t stop violence. They respond to violence that has already occured and they respond with their own threat of violence. And that response is not equitable. When people of color are involved, police often engage violently.” 

Project Nia also points out that, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 77% of white people had no contact with police in the previous year. Many of those who did initiated the contact by calling police. And the same report found Black people were more than twice as likely as white people to experience the threat or use of force by police.

If the police don’t prevent harm (and actually make us less safe because of their perilous threat of violence), and if we really want to protect our most vulnerable citizens (as the caller to the Township Council meeting purported to value), then what is to be done?

Well, what if we took the $1 trillion we spend on security per year as a country (between the military, police, prisons, and surveillance) and invested it back in our communities? (We could start with the more than $16 million spent yearly on police in Montclair.)

What if we tried to abolish the causes of harm in our society instead of policing and criminalizing its effects?

What if everyone had access to high-quality jobs, housing, healthcare, childcare, education, transportation, recreation, parks, art, community services, food, water and so much more?

Many people in Montclair already have these things but it’s not the reality everywhere (and it’s certainly not the reality for all Montclair residents).

If many of us have these resources, why doesn’t everyone else?

Mark Joseph
Montclair Local


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