No More Unsafe Policing Bills. It’s Time For Data-Driven Public Safety Solutions
Min. Christian S. Watkins, Government Relations Advocate
August 30, 2022
We know what keeps us safe: environments where people of every color and background have fair wages, great schools, and affordable healthcare. When there are problems in our communities, they are addressed with proven solutions like social supports, investments in built design, increased educational opportunities, and housing equity. However, our country has mishandled public safety challenges with racist policies and practices that have made us all less safe and secure, like: hyper-militarized law enforcement of Black and Brown neighborhoods, overly aggressive — and sometimes deadly — policing tactics, mass incarceration, insufficient economic development, qualified immunity to shield bad police behavior, and tough-on-crime legislation.
Instead of taking responsibility for their failures, certain politicians want to divide and distract us by pointing the finger at the people and communities affected by the criminal legal system that they engineered to fracture our society. They draft bills with catchy, ‘get tough’ names, but negatively impact all of us — whether we are directly targeted or not. Two such bills, H.R.6448/S.3860 and H.R.6375/S.4287, are coming up for consideration this fall. NETWORK and our coalition partners strongly call for Members of Congress to vote against these proposed measures.
|Policing Bill #||Name and Sponsor||Why They Are Harmful|
|H.R.6448/S 3860||Invest to Protect Act of 2022 (Sponsor Rep. Josh Gottheimer [D-NJ-5])||These bills would flood our streets with an additional 100,000 police officers, increase funding by $1B per year over five years, and increase the amount of surveillance and other relative equipment—further harming already marginalized communities.
Police bureaucracy would expand without concrete accountability measures. This further entrenches disrespect for our fundamental freedoms.
These bills would completely fail to adequately address the policies and practices at the root of community violence. Moreover, the holistic, evidence-based safety programs that have been proven (with research and data) to help our communities thrive, are not included.
|H.R.6375/S 4287||COPS on the Beat Grant Program Reauthorization and Parity Act of 2022 (Sponsor Rep. Tom Rice [R-SC-7])
NETWORK is in coalition with a group of social justice and civil rights organizations that have issued a formal letter to House Leadership requesting that they not advance these bills. Read the letter here.
The most impacted people, of course, are those caught up in a criminal legal system primarily focused on harsh and inequitable punishment and lengthy incarceration (rather than rehabilitation and reintegration into society). But those of us on the outside looking in are harmed, too. We are conditioned to believe (consciously or subconsciously) that impacted people are the reason why their communities are unsafe. Bills like these, which racialize and vilify large swaths of people, often go unseen as a culprit in making life miserable.
In thinking this way, we not only fail to see how the laws are designed to impact a certain group of people; but we also devalue the diverse humanity and unique beauty that God bestows on all of Creation.
Law enforcement and elected officials use communities in distress as political pawns to appease and appeal to their voter bases. They signal that they are tough-on-crime by suppressing individual freedoms with policy that brings about outsized police interference. Isn’t this in conflict with the ideals of our Democratic Republic? I know that it is out of step with our sacred scriptures.
Advocate for Public Safety Strategies, Against Tough on Crime Legislation
All of us–Black or white, rich or poor, or republican or democrat–should live in safe and secure neighborhoods. People living in troubled neighborhoods that have obstacles to thriving lives because of racist economic policies and practices, should not be targeted for an outsized police presence. They don’t need more weapons. The deserve proven, safer, and life affirming strategies. Politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to promote tough-on-crime tactics to appease the electorate. What else can you do to help?
- For decades, police have been allocated substantial funding without being held to concrete accountability measures. Let Congress know there can be no more bills like this.
- Too often, citizens with mental health issues are incarcerated instead given proper medical treatment. Let Congress know this has to stop.
- We’ve waged a war on drugs and have been tough on crime without results that keep people and communities free and safe. Let Congress know that policing bills must be rooted in public health and based on evidence-based investments – not on the rhetoric they think voters want to hear
- Be an advocate for legislation that values the humanity of everyone in all of our communities, like these proposed in the House. NETWORK will let you know when it’s time to take action with a call or email to the House:
Evidence Proves Legislators Tough On Crime Police Measures Harm Our Communities and Don’t Keep Us Safe
Our country serves as the model of democracy around the globe, but sadly, our incarceration rate of 629 people per 100,000 means our country has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The U.S. rose to the top of this disturbing chart over the past four decades because of the proliferation of biased and ineffective tough-on-crime legislation. As the Sentencing Project reports, presently, there are two million people in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. Friends, think about this carefully: U.S. policing policy has driven the country to claim nearly 25% of the world’s total prison population but has failed to significantly reduce crime in our communities. What does this mean?
Despite what politicians and police tell you about the effectiveness of their tactics, decades of data has shown that ‘get tough’ policies have not made us safer. There is little correlation between high rates of ‘violent crime’ and incarceration rates and research from the Pew Charitable Trust dispels the theory that stiffer prison terms deter drug misuse, distribution, and other drug-law violations. I applaud Pews suggestion to policymakers: pursue research-based alternative strategies that work better and cost less. But, there’s more than the proper allocations of resources to consider.
Black lives hang precariously in danger because of the police. Among Black Americans, the rate of fatal police shootings between 2015 and August 2022 stood at 40 per million of the population, while for white Americans, the rate stood at 16 fatal police shootings per million of the population.
Dig Deeper: How did we get here?
Much of the carceral trauma inflicted on people and communities in modern times came after the passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (the crime bill). The legislation was passed with bipartisan support, in large part, to help Democrats appear tough-on-crime. Data leading up to the crime bill showed that people in urban areas needed employment opportunities and education, but Congress responded with jails and military grade weapons on our streets (How to Be An Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi, 2019).
Even before the crime bill inflicted harm with racially biased policing and mandatory drug sentencing guidelines, state and federal authorities waged 13 years of ‘get tough’ policies across the country that emphasized the use of incarceration for more offenders for longer periods — but did not reduce the crime rate. And before that time period, a trio of U.S. presidents squarely aimed unjust crime policy at Black and Brown people.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan declared that stronger law enforcement was needed to curb drug abuse. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared war on crime. Both policies sought to vilify the marginalized and addicted, not safeguard public welfare with policies that reflected mercy and justice as God calls for (Zechariah 7:9-10).
in 1971, President Richard Nixon’s used racial abuse as the basis of criminal legal system policy. This may have been suspected at the time, but it wasn’t until years later that his phony ‘War on Drugs’ was revealed as a political strategy designed to demonize political enemies.
We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. (John Erlichmann, former Nixon domestic policy advisor, Harper Magazine).
Evidence Based Public Policy Legislation Is Vital to the Build Anew Agenda
NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda seeks a country where all people enjoy freedoms and thrive in God’s economy. Any bill that sprouts in the shadow of the 1994 Crime Bill violates our Spirited call for justice and equity.
We can’t be fooled into thinking that the same old policy is going to fix our policing and criminal legal system problems. NETWORK calls on Congress to stop the cycle of police funding bills that don’t work. Instead, advance policies rooted in public health and in evidence-based investments that will truly keep people safe. We know what keeps us safe. Together, we will make this a place where our rights are respected and where every one of us can live full and healthy lives, with no exceptions.
Links from this blog to read and share with your friends and family
- Evidence on Non-Carceral Investments That Work to Prevent Violence & Harm
- Civil Rights Corps. Coalition Letter Against Unsafe Policing Bills
- Sentencing Council (Australia) International Sentencing and Imprisonment Statistics
- Sentencing Project: Criminal Justice Facts
- States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2021
- Police shootings-rates by ethnicity in the U.S.
- Pew: More Imprisonment Does Not Reduce State Drug Problems
- The 1994 Crime Bill Continues to Undercut Justice Reform — Here’s How to Stop It
Christian Watkins’ Network article is so full of important information- with research and data included – that I will use
it as a study guide and reflection tool. The Network vision of justice for ALL also shines through the article and encourages me to take action steps. Thanks so much, Christian!
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