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Demand for police reform growing

Defund the Police is one of the most noted and controversial political slogans in American history. It is not readily apparent what the slogan means, but the proponents of the slogan continue to push it in the media. Detractors take it to mean abolishing the police, creating a society of chaos, but the Defund the Police website explains their position: “divesting from institutions that kill, harm, cage and control our communities, and investing in violence prevention and interruption, housing, health care, income support, employment, and other community-based safety strategies that will produce safer communities for everyone.”

Closely linked with Black Lives Matter (BLM), Defund the Police continues to be a rallying cry for law enforcement reform. BLM is itself often interpreted by detractors to mean only Black lives matter, hence the counter police-supporting-slogan, All Lives Matter.

Police misconduct has been an issue since the inception of policing, and at present, the police evaluate their own misconduct. If charges are brought, they are brought by a states attorney who works closely with police. Little effort has been made nationwide to separate police oversight from the self-interest and bias of police.

Barney Peoples, a 51-year-old Oglala Lakota man, was shot 15 times by Rapid City police last March. But 15 shots to kill one man no longer seems excessive given it has become the norm. Officers respond with deadly force quickly because they “just want to get home safe to their loved ones” as one officer told NSNT.

“Cops hear a constant drumbeat of warnings that they have an exceptionally dangerous job,” writes David Grace for the website Tech, Guns, Health Insurance and Education, “that at any moment they’re possibly going to be killed, that they always have to be ready to shoot first and shoot to kill in order to protect themselves.”

According to body cam footage released to the media, Peoples was armed, and the Office of the Attorney General has signed off on the shooting, but six of 15 bullets from two officers riddled Peoples. At what point is the deadly force reaction excessive?

Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old playing with a replica toy gun in the park, when he was shot dead by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann in 2014. Video shows it took two seconds for Loehmann to shoot Rice after he exited a still moving patrol car. Loehmann had a previous history of mental instability, but an investigation deemed the killing of Rice justified.

A popular misconception is that the police have a relatively dangerous job.

“That’s largely untrue,” writes Grace, “but they don’t know that because the people they trust, the veteran cops training them, keep repeating the warnings while showing them videos of cops being murdered.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, law enforcement isn’t even in the top ten most dangerous jobs. Loggers, fishermen, pilots, roofers, trash collectors, steel workers, truck drivers, and farmers all have more dangerous jobs. Even convenience store clerks have a job more dangerous than police work.

It seems like police should be in more danger than the teenage girl working her shift at a convenience store, but the facts say otherwise. However, the public still perceives policing as more dangerous, and the police themselves, perceive their job that way even more so.

Grace writes: “Police officer training does everything possible to instill an attitude of fear, danger and ‘Us against Them’ into recruits where ‘us’ means other cops and ‘them’ means everyone who is not a cop. After being repeatedly warned that their lives are always in danger, they’re trained that in order to protect themselves from this immanent, ever-present threat they must: shoot first if they feel threatened, shoot to kill, and don’t stop shooting until the ‘target’ is on the ground and not moving.”

The 2020 George Floyd murder is probably the most significant example of a police officer, Derek Chauvin, applying excessive force to a defenseless person, resulting in his death. Bystanders can be seen in the video imploring Chauvin to get his knee off Floyd’s neck, but he ignores their pleas, giving a grim testament to the dehumanizing training Grace alludes to in his quote. Zoologist Desmond Morris wrote about “a log in the forest” to be stepped over, as an apt description of how we dehumanize our fellow man in order to justify whatever actions we take. In this case, Chauvin dehumanized the victim and the bystanders, so he was impervious to reasoned correction. Chauvin was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison, and the city of Minneapolis had to dole out $27 million to the Floyd family.

Floyd’s death became a rallying cry for police reform across the nation. The ripple effect even reached Indian Country. Given the climate, advertisers threatened to pull out from the Washington Redskins, finally forcing that franchise to change their blatantly racist moniker to Commanders. Where decades of Native protest had not changed the name, a jolt of social outrage compelling advertisers to balk, did the trick.

When it comes to the treatment of Natives, Rapid City policing has been called into question by former U.S. attorney general Brandon Johnson. Decades of conflict with Rapid City’s sizeable Indian Community prompted the Rapid City PD to commission a “Mitakuye Oyasin” car (we are all related), as a gesture of goodwill. The death of Barney Peoples indicates that all of the dysfunctional factors impacting bad police work are present in Rapid City.

Policing is changing across America, becoming more militarized and aggressive. Police are killed, but they kill citizens at a rate of 21 to 1. Defund the Police wants to change police mentality, by perhaps even eliminating the concept of police and replacing them with a community service oriented alternative.

According to Dr. Gary Potter, from EKU online: “More than crime, modern police forces in the United States emerged as a response to ‘disorder.’ What constitutes social and public order depends largely on who is defining those terms. The cities of 19th Century America were defined by the mercantile interests. These interests through taxes and political influence supported the development of bureaucratic policing institutions. These economic interests had a greater interest in social control than crime control.”

(Contact James Giago Davies at

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