The discussion this past Tuesday on defunding the police was a collective effort of fifteen participants. These individuals actively engaged in conversation that ranged from police reforms to systemic racism while noshing on fresh fruit brought in by yours truly. All fifteen participants had raised their hands when asked if they had heard the term “defund the police” before, had some previous knowledge about police reform, and thought police funds should be reallocated towards better community efforts and trainings. It should be noted that one participant felt strongly about abolishing the police altogether. They, along with a few others, vocalized their concern for the police’s racist historical past and the continual lack of concern and respect for various, intersectional marginalized groups.
When defining police, the participants had ultimately agreed their job was to serve and enforce the law, but in reality, police are “incredibly militarized”, “racist”, and/or “on a power trip”. Additionally, no participant raised their hand when asked if police make them feel safe and protected. Many of the participants had also concurred that police uniforms, badges and all, brought forth more intimidation and power complexes over everyday pedestrians than using their position of power for good. One participant had felt very strongly about the police not using their budgets effectively or efficiently. “I feel like they’re not using the money?” they said. Overall, the consensus and next course of action was police reform.
“Reform won’t happen unless we all progress as a society”, one participant shared. Another person suggested reform starting at the police academy, where candidates can take the necessary de-escalation and bias trainings to become a part of the police force. Others felt they should’ve done internal investigations of police forces and re-evaluate who they’ve onboarded to avoid more disparaging interactions between police and people of color. It seems to be quite self-evident that the police are not doing their part to make this country a safer place.
When it comes to reform, adding body cameras and banning chokeholds will not completely solve police brutality. Police are notorious for escalating situations unnecessarily and have continued to be portrayed in a negative light on social media and in the streets. All 15 participants agreed that police should not be people to call for noise complaints or other forms of non-criminal reports. The state of New York has a 311 number for these specific instances, but many other states have not prioritized a separate emergency service hotline for non-criminal inquiries, so the police are the ones left to address the concern regardless of their expertise.
Regardless of intentions, police are not looked at in the same way. Since the George Floyd protests, police forces have been continually criticized and condemned for their actions against marginalized communities and the fight doesn’t seem to be over any time soon. Without national conversations around police reform and policy changes, there will be no change in our police.
Following the death of George Floyd in late May of 2020, caused by a Minneapolis police officer, America woke up to an outraged populace that sparked protests nationwide. Social media exploded with black squares that captioned #BLM, Black Lives Matter, a direct correlation to the pro-black activist organization fighting against racism, racial inequities, and police brutality. The term “Defund the Police” took the internet and streets by storm. The virality of the notorious phrase brought forth the topic of police reform and their funding expenses.
According to the US Census Bureau Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances, state and local governments spent a total of $123 billion on police, $82 billion on corrections, and $50 billion on courts in 2019. Although that may seem astronomical, the total they spend on all three only makes up for less than eight percent of the total state and local government expenditures. Over 97% of the estimated $255 billion went towards salaries and benefits.
While there are multiple interpretations of the term ‘defund the police’, the basic definition is to move funds away from the police and put them into other means of community safety and protection, such as on-site mental health specialists or social workers. Some activists want local and state governments to reevaluate, not completely diminish, their spending habits on police departments, while others want to abolish the police altogether. Some argue that we will never get past the police’s racist and problematic history, while others are optimistic at confronting and reforming the law enforcement system.
Should police departments be defunded? Are any police reform efforts helpful? Would abolishing police departments ultimately resolve police brutality for communities of color? Or would it lead to greater violence in our cities?
In our class deliberation about Gender Reveal Parties, we began by discussing what these parties are and whether or not they are harmful. Most of the class initially agreed that the parties themselves are not harmful and should be left up to the discretion of the couple. As we progressed in our conversation, however, it became clear that the relevance of these parties is small when compared to the, at times restrictive and harmful, gender ideologies that are deeply entrenched within our society.
We asked questions such as: “Do gender reveal parties decide a child’s gender identity before they’re able to have a say?” and “What age should a child be when it becomes appropriate for a parent to acknowledge and embrace a child’s gender identity as something other than their gender assigned at birth?” In response to the first question, it was noted that the ideas about gender behind these parties can create a limiting mindset in parents when it comes to embracing gender fluidity. Once a gender has not only been decided, but also publicly celebrated, it can create confusion and difficulty in the future if a child decides that they do not identify with what they were assigned. The second question was left somewhat open ended by the class as there did not seem to be an agreed upon age at which one can solidly identify their gender. Instead, the class discussed how furthering the need for a label on one’s gender throughout childhood and adolescence can create more pressure and uncertainty than is needed. Parents should be open to their child’s expression of self regardless of how it looks on the spectrum of gender. There should be open communication on both ends as parent and child work to create an environment that is accepting and welcoming of how one chooses to identify and express themselves.
There was also a point at which the conversation turned to questions of safety and visibility for those who choose to go against “gender-norms” and the implications that tightly held ideals about boys and girls can have on the development of children. While gender can be seemingly harmless in many ways, there is real cause for concern over how those who have stepped away from it have been treated and discriminated against. How do we protect these people? And how do we begin to break down the ideas that lead others to believe who they are is wrong? At the end of our discussion, we asked the question “does gender have any real value in society: yes or no?” Through a show of hands, the class unanimously agreed that it does not, which lends itself to further discussion of how we, not only as a class, but as members of a larger society can begin to adopt more fluid ideas and actions that promote this belief.
What exactly is a gender reveal party? The idea was unofficially adopted thirteen years ago when L.A. based mother and blogger, Jenna Karvunidis’s, video of her cutting into a pink cake went viral. Initially, the celebration consisted of couples engaging in activities such as cutting into cakes or popping balloons to reveal the gender of the baby based on the color inside: pink or blue. These parties seemed to be a fun and interactive way to involve family, friends, and even the couple themselves in the celebration and excitement that comes with not only having a baby, but discovering if it is a boy or a girl.
These parties have been further called into question recently given the rise in awareness and understanding around gender fluidity, nonconformity, and implications. Outsiders have begun to wonder what role these parties play in reinforcing stringent views of gender that have resulted in backlash and discomfort with people who do not identify as what they were assigned at birth. These parties have been criticized for their adherence to “gender norms” such as the colors that are used and the idea that gender is the same as sex. Whether or not these parties will continue to hold the popularity they have attained since 2008 is unclear, but the need for a discussion about their impact and implications perhaps is.