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2 views on the future of American policing

As we have seen in Minneapolis, whose city council says it will defund the police, the move to reform law enforcement is gaining steam. Some activists want to abolish police departments entirely, while others aim to reallocate some of their funding to other services. Judy Woodruff talks to Charlene Carruthers of the Movement for Black Lives and Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have seen in Minneapolis, there's a shift under way in some places when it comes to reforming police practices.

    Namely, some are arguing that reform itself does not work. That's behind the idea of defunding the police. It includes a range of views that can mean shifting money and budgets to other social services agencies that might be better equipped to handle issues assigned to the police.

    In some cases, people are calling for outright abolition of police departments.

    We're going to spend some time looking at what these changes could mean.

    Charlene Carruthers is an organizer with Movement for Black Lives. She's the author of "Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements." And Chuck Wexler is the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. It's an organization of law enforcement officials.

    And welcome, both of you, to the "NewsHour." Thank you for being here.

    Charlene Carruthers, to you first.

    What is it that you would like to see happen to police departments across this country? How should they operate, in your view?

  • Charlene Carruthers:

    So, the problem that people are rising up about the country — or across the country right now is the issue of how much our police departments are invested in and how much our communities are not invested in.

    So, what I would like to see happen in a city like Chicago, where I currently live, is that our over $1.7 billion budget, which amounts to just under $5 million a day, be greatly reallocated and invested in our communities, in our public education, in our health care, in quality public housing, jobs, and our environment.

    And, frankly, that's not happening. What we're seeing happening with police departments is surveillance, violence and the death of our people. And that simply must change. And we know that Band-Aid reform solutions aren't enough.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, to clarify, what would the role of police be? And you would leave some money for police working on crime that's committed, right?

  • Charlene Carruthers:

    Well, I understand that the process to living in a society where safety exists beyond policing will take a very — it'll take time. It won't happen overnight.

    So, what I would like to see are local governments and also local police departments commit to a process in which we move essential safety services from the power and control of police departments into our communities.

    That means crisis response. And that also means what — how we deal with violence, conflict and harm. It means that actually, eventually, the police are not the people who intervene or show up in instances of crisis, conflict, harm, or violence, but, in fact, it's a community-based response that's outside of systems of policing, prisons and jails.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chuck Wexler, what about this concept of shifting these kinds of responsibilities, at least initially, for issues that — around — situations around mental health counseling, drug counseling, mediation, that that money be shifted to other social service agencies?

  • Chuck Wexler:

    Well, actually, I agree with a lot of what Ms. Carruthers said, in terms of, this is a joint responsibility with the community, mental health, homeless, dealing with the opioid issue. This can't be done by the police alone. We need the community.

    And I agree with her about investments in those institutions. We need to get kids to have jobs. We need to be working in community policing. We need to be doing problem-solving. So, there's not really much I disagree with Ms. Carruthers, except for the fact that, at the very moment that we have a spotlight on the police, that's the time to take a hard look at how they do their job.

    Look, we need the police. We need humane police. We need smart police. So, I don't disagree with what miss Carruthers said about the need to help prevent crime. We need community people. I have worked in Chicago. I know the crisis of people that work. And they prevent gang violence.

    There are people in Chicago, they're gang interrupters that prevent violence. We need them.

    But here's where we are today. We had a huge incident in Minneapolis. It's a defining moment for this country. So we have some choices. Do we walk away from the police? Or do we say, hey, you know what, we tried to change the police, but we — this was an eye-opener.

    What happened in Minneapolis was a total police failure. But there are some good cops out there. And when you're in crisis, you need a good cop. We can't just walk away from policing. Now is the time to get into policing, to do problem-solving, to work with the community to be better at what we do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Charlene Carruthers, in your view, I mean, is this a choice between reforming policing further? We know some reforms have clearly already been instituted?

    Is it a choice between reforming policing and just doing away with policing, or how do you see it?

  • Charlene Carruthers:

    So, actually, Mr. Wexler and I have fundamental disagreements. I actually do not believe that we agree about the role of the police.

    I do not believe that we have — we should have a partnership between community and the police in order to deal with conflict, harm and violence in our communities. What — that power, those decisions and that role, including the money, needs to actually be completely shifted, and not simply into social service agencies, because we also know and understand that many social service agencies act in proxy to the police department across the country.

    And what we're seeing in Minneapolis is not simply a case of a few bad apples. In reality, we know that the entire tree is rotten. It's been rotten since policing was even developed in this country. We know its origins in serving as slave catchers for enslaved Africans.

    We know how police played a role, a major role, in Jim Crow. We know how police continue to play a role in — a role in the mass incarceration of black and brown people.

    What we're talking about here is a big vision. We're talking about radically shifting and transforming the world that we live in. We know that defunding the police is one step, but one essential step, because power, how it works in this world is through organized resources, meaning money, and organized people.

    And so we're going towards the source of what we know the government understands, corporations understand, and police unions understand, is that we're coming to say, we're — we want power shifted into our communities.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in essence, Chuck Wexler, what I hear Ms. Carruthers saying is that police, as an institution, doesn't work anymore.

  • Chuck Wexler:

    Well, maybe if I was in her shoes, I might feel the same way.

    I don't — I don't take away anything she said. She's lived this. I haven't.

    But here's what I know. At the end of the day, there's 18,000 police departments in this country; 90 percent of them are 25 officers or less. We have no national standards, no guidelines on use of force. We put out guidelines on use of force six years ago. And we believe in the sanctity of human life. We believe in the duty to intervene, rendering first aid.

    We need humane police. We do not have a plan B. If you said in Minneapolis today, we're going to disband the police, what does that mean? Someone needs to respond to someone when they're in crisis. Someone — if you need a police officer, and you're in crisis, there is absolutely nothing better than a good cop and absolutely nothing worse than a bad cop.

    We need police in society. But we need humane police. We need good police. We need to be working with groups like yours in Chicago. We cannot do this alone. We cannot change police. We need the community with us.

    This was a defining moment in Minneapolis. But let's use this moment to change an institution. Society needs police. We need humane police. We're better than what happened in Minneapolis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ms. Carruthers, what about his point that, as a country, as a society, we need police in crisis situations?

  • Charlene Carruthers:

    So, I live on the South Side of Chicago.

    And, every single day, my community is surveilled by the Chicago Police Department. We put literally well over a billion dollars into the Chicago Police Department every single day. At the same time, we see story after story of violence that is happening in our communities.

    The police are not keeping us safe. Any semblance of safety that we have comes from within our community. We know things like good jobs, good education, good health care, mental health crisis actually reduces violence that happens in our communities.

    And to Mr. Wexler's point about how, who do we want to respond in crisis, imagine that you are being assaulted by your partner, or you are in the middle of a mental health crisis, and instead of a person showing up with a gun and a Taser, an entire police department behind them, it's a social service worker, it's a mental health crisis worker, it is a sexual assault crisis responder.

    We — in Chicago, our Chicago public schools have more cops than they have counselors.

    What I'm saying here is something that some neighborhoods and communities already know. We know wealthy communities and white communities know what it's like to actually have resources, instead of having more cops. And that's what we're talking about here.

    It's not a vision that's unattainable. It's a vision that actually invites more community into the process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chuck Wexler, final word? Is that something that can — that's workable?

  • Chuck Wexler:

    Oh, I think that is workable.

    I think teaming up mental health workers with the police could be absolutely workable. We don't feel like we have a monopoly on mental health, issues on drug issues, on people in crisis.

    But here's the reality. It's 3:00 in the morning. Are those other social service agencies willing to step up? If they are, come join us. We need all the help we can get.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we certainly hear you both. It's a conversation ongoing for some time to come.

    Chuck Wexler, Charlene Carruthers, we thank you both.

  • Chuck Wexler:

    Thank you.

  • Charlene Carruthers:

    Thanks for having us.

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