“Diversity is important, but we have to ask ourselves: What does it mean to just add black and brown faces when we haven’t done enough to the culture and values and question the foundation of the organization?” This is a question presented by today’s Our Future Now! guest, Cherrell Brown, lead organizer of 350.org. Our Future Now! co-hosts Natalie Mebane and Jonah Gottlieb are joined by Brown to discuss what defunding the police really means and looks like.
Brown wants people to “dig deep when thinking about racial justice and see it beyond simply a question of equality and diversity, because it means so much more than that to really do the work.”
For businesses, she recommends, “Take a look at your mission statement. Look at ways you might be harmful without realizing it.”
Going a step further, she calls for reducing the scope and funding of police until we get to a place of different alternatives. “It’s about finding different ways to respond and care for our people.”
Below is a guide to key points in the podcast:
- At 1 minute 30 seconds: Browns talks about growing up in a small town in North Carolina that basically lost all their factory jobs 20 years ago and saw them replaced by jobs attached to a newly-built prison. She noticed how too many black people were subsequently being incarcerated. When she went to college at North Carolina A&T State University she started to organize around the issues of police accountability and environmental justice.
- At 2 minutes 55 seconds: Brown talks about being part of a student group organizing against the city council’s decision to reopen a landfill in a part of town where black people lived in order to save money, as her first exposure to environmental racism. She also was part of a student group that organized against police brutality at the same time. She never untethered the two issues.
- At 3 minutes 55 seconds: Brown talks about taking things to the next level because of the uprising for social justice after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. She was on the ground to witness the force that was used by the police department to push back against the protesters
- At 5 minutes 15 seconds: Brown talks about the irony of Chevron tweeting out “Black Lives Matter” the other day in the wake of the uprising for racial justice following the police murder of George Floyd, since the company is known for harming black and brown communities with their pollution. Chevron responded to the criticism by saying they foster diversity in the workplace. That is a model many nonprofits also practice. She thinks the best way to make a real difference is by implementing policies that combat white supremacy, which has become so sustainable that it can be enacted and continued without white faces even being around.
- At 7 minutes 10 seconds: Mebane talks further about Brown’s point regarding the diversity shield that is used by companies and organizations to deflect attention away from their policies. The appearance of “wokeness”, so to speak is more surface-level than substantive.
- At 8 minutes 50 seconds: Brown talks about how companies and organizations can work to end white supremacy by first looking at their mission statement to determine if it is problematic. In addition, listening to black leadership to understand what their needs are can help. For example, resources can be moves to help black grassroots organizations that are operating on shoe-string budgets. Furthermore, when establishing a relationship with black grassroots organizations they shouldn’t extract too much from them. Finally, when somebody takes bold steps to help, other groups will do the same.
- At 10 minutes 45 seconds: Gottlieb talks about how every aspect of the nonprofit advocacy world needs to make sure they are fighting for racial justice, whether you know it or not.
- At 11 minutes 35 seconds: Brown talks about how Black Live Matter was never explicitly or exclusively about the police. It is about every aspect of society that harms black people.
- At 12 minutes 40 seconds: Brown talks about how the phrase “defund the police” is part of an abolitionist framework. It means to reduce the scope and funding of the police to a point where society can think of different alternatives. She points out that getting to that point isn’t as dramatic as people think because there are already communities that have more resources for things like mental health and drug rehabilitation. It basically means getting at the root causes of why issues arise instead of leaning on the prison industrial complex to fix all the problems.
- At 14 minutes 35 seconds: Brown talks about her answer to those who say what happens to the murderers and rapists if you defund the police? She points to Atlanta, for instance, where they have had 30 murders this year, while police there have had 17,000 arrests for quality of life issues like panhandling and loitering. In the case of rape, statistics show that less than 24% are even reported to the police, less than 5% are ever adjudicated and less than 1% ever wind up with the rapist going to jail. So, clearly the police are not helping to address the very real problem of sexual violence in America.
- At 15 minutes 50 seconds: Brown talks about how police officers were recently shown all over social media engaging in overly aggressive behavior towards people, especially protesters. So the question is what does it mean to be a good police officer in an anti-black institution?
- At 16 minutes 35 seconds: Mebane talks about the Rashard Brooks murder in Atlanta, where somehow somebody who fell asleep in their car in McDonald’s drive-thru, who might have been intoxicated and was sleeping it off, wound up getting killed by the police as he was fleeing the scene.
- At 19 minutes 5 seconds: Brown talks about how in the Brooks tragedy what a defund the police scenario would have looked like – call him an Uber and a tow truck. The problem of quality of life arrest is it a bad strategy that happens because you have so many homeless people. Address that challenge and suddenly half of those arrests become unnecessary.
- At 20 minutes 15 seconds: Gottlieb talks about how Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) says that places would look like the suburbs if you defund the police.
- At 20 minutes 55 seconds: Brown and Gottlieb talks about how the suburb concept is about communities with more resources and opportunities that don’t have huge expenditures for the police. If we have more economic fairness you would see fewer people resorting to criminal activity. Government expenditures can be used to help improve people’s lives.
- At 21 minutes 55 seconds: Brown talks about how the purpose of the police seems to be mainly about protecting property. The concept started in Europe when people were rebelling against the ruling class and then migrated to America with slave patrols in the South and in the North, where workers were rebelling against the elite. The police maintained control over those uprisings, which is something we see in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The peaceful protest took a violent turn when the police showed up.
- At 24 minutes 40 seconds: Brown talks about how you can’t really reform an institution like the police. That is why she believes in abolition. For example, there is a police reform campaign called “8 Can’t Wait” by people like DeRay McKesson and Campaign Zero. It includes a proposal for police officers to intervene when they see another officer doing something wrong. That was already in place in Minneapolis, Minnesota when George Floyd was murdered by police officers as other officers looked on. In Ohio, there was a requirement for police to warn people before shooting, but in the case of the killing of 12-year old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a park, that never happened. The police drove up and shot him before he had a chance to do anything. A lot of reforms are in place, but it doesn’t seem to matter.
- At 25 minutes 55 seconds: Gottlieb talks about how in Chicago all of the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms have been implemented and yet the problems of overly aggressive policing and responses to protesters continue.
- At 27 minutes 10 seconds: Brown talks about how the labor movement should reconsider their relationship with police unions, who have always been the protectors of bad police behavior.
- At 28 minutes 45 seconds: Brown talks about the type of things people can do to improve the current situation with the police. They can do simple things, for example, like when dealing with a noisy neighbor that they shouldn’t call the police on them, but look for other ways to resolve the problem. People can also learn about their local police budgeting to influence the decisions that their city council makes. Also find a political home, which is a place that does the type of work you feel called to do.
Action Items for This Our Future Now! Defunding Police Episode
Brown recommends taking action in the following ways:
- Look at how you use the police.
- How can you call them less?
- Get involved in local police budgeting and join your community to influence efforts. You can visit ACRE Campaigns to learn your local police department’s budget. Another organization to consider: 8CantWait.
- Find a political home — a place that does the work you feel called to do.
- Donate time or money to Black Lives movements.
Gottlieb reinforces Brown’s suggestions, “No matter what you do, you are already engaging in racial justice organizing if you’re an organizer. Make sure that your work is openly and unapologetically fighting for Black lives.”
More Our Future Now Podcasts
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PODCAST: Our World’s New Leaders — Kids
PODCAST: Racial Injustice — Our World Is At a Precipice
PODCAST: Senate’s Stall of HEROES Act Will Hurt Education
PODCAST: Exploitation of CARES Act Could Harm Families
PODCAST: COVID’s Impact on Environmental Health and Our Health, Too
PODCAST: Teens Fight For Family Members on Frontlines #YourWorkersMyFamily
PODCAST: How COVID-19 Is Harming College Students
The Our Future Now Collaboration
Our Future Now, a National Children’s Campaign Podcast is co-hosted by Jonah Gottlieb and Natalie Mebane. Gottlieb and Mebane are also co-founders of NCC. Gottlieb, a high school senior from Petaluma, California, is also the captain of One Planet Living and the co-founder and president of Global Awareness. Mebane is the Associate Director of US Policy for 350, an international movement looking to end the use of fossil fuels while promoting renewable energy.
Our Future Now is a collaboration between Parentology, the National Children’s Campaign and Goal 17 Media.
The National Children’s Campaign (NCC) is a national nonprofit organization that amplifies the voices of America’s 74 million children and youth, making sure our nation’s political leaders prioritize issues –health, education, climate and environment, child welfare, gun violence, child immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and youth civic engagement — that matter to those who are too young to vote. You can read more about today’s episode on the NCC blog here.
Goal 17 Media is a media network producing podcasts, videos and documentaries that inspire individuals and contribute to the common good.