I have been holding off on writing this blog, in normal Katie fashion- I have been waiting and intaking a lot of information. However, seeing posts from friends and family on my Facebook, and people still struggling with the meaning of “defunding the police” has me irritated and I am tired of waiting to find the right words. So, here it is plain and simple:
This fourth of July, I didn’t celebrate with fireworks, I wasn’t decked out head to toe in American flag garb, I was wearing black. I was in mourning for a country that only ever wants to focus on the positive things about America or the drama our media feeds us. In the middle of a pandemic, I put on my face mask, packed the sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and my water bottle, and headed to the park to meet with others for an anti-4th of July protest.
When my roommates and I arrived at the park, there was no organizer to be found and no one seemed to know what was going on. Random volunteers were showing up with water, first aid supplies, and fliers about what to do if the police show up and the slogans we would be chanting. We casually wandered around and safely asked others if they knew what was happening, no one seemed to know, we were all just in the waiting game. So, more and more gathered and it got closer and closer to the time to start. At 2pm, starting time, 3 police officers showed up and started asking what we were doing there, who we were meeting, and what was happening- they too wanted to know who the organizers were. We didn’t know. So, the cops radioed back and forth with the station, “there are a lot of people in the park”, “no, they don’t know who the organizers are”, “yeah, yep, they are all just waiting with there signs”, No, not sure what else to do”. 5 Minutes passed and before we knew it, 12 police officers flooded the scene, breaking off in teams of two they started more questioning of the people gathered- though we still had no answers. As I scanned the park, it became clear to my roommates that the people cops were asking were white, they were young. The Police were not asking the first aid people or any of the folks passing out fliers- the people that could presumably know something.
When the cops approached us, my roommate Laura spoke up asking them why THEY were here and what they knew about this event. The officer who had just got off of a facetime call with his son approached us and said “I’m officer _____, I have a background in deescalating hostage situations and distinguishing terrorist attacks. Although today I am only here to serve and protect, we as a task force respect your Freedom of Speech and are here to support you in any way.”
It seemed that that officer wasn’t the only one supporting us, the whole march, 8 police officers walked with us and 6 police cars followed us as we chanted “defund the police”, “say their NAMES”, and “Nana AYUDAME” (Grandma help me, the last words a local Tucsonian spoke before being killed by the police force in a similar fashion to George Floyd. His story was not released until three months after the incident. Carlos Ingram-Lopez, PRESENTE!). This protest was more than a mourning of America, this was a BLM stance for change and anger for what has taken place.
Throughout the whole march, it seemed the task force followed us. I started to feel guilty of my actions, embarrassed of what I was screaming to the friendly people around us, protecting us. But then, as we took our first break from the heat and drank water, I once again noticed who the police officers were interacting with and what their role was. When I say the WHOLE task force was looking out for us, I sincerely mean the majority of officers from TPD were “watching” this protest and as we looked around, it became less of an allyship and more of a watch party. The officer with a background in de-escalation and terrorist situations wasn’t there by accident. Also, even if he was, was it necessary to have the WHOLE police force at this gathering? Were we not paying them to be out protecting people, were there not “fireworks gone wrong” accidents or serious situations they needed to be in? This was a peaceful protest for change, not a riot or looting. Yet, our freedom of speech was met with fear and intimidation.
The defunding of police, to me, means that we cut their funding. Tucson Police just RAISED their budget by 2 MILLION dollars. Which, will be used for new squad cars, paid leave, more guns, and more officers. It does not offer more training, background screening for who gets hired, or therapy for cops that have experienced trauma at work.
I was 19 years old when I had a gun pulled on me by an officer in my small town of Mason City. I was being stopped for being at the park after hours and when I got out of the car to see what was happening, I was met with the barrel of a gun and a strict speech on never approaching the cop car. Something I was unaware of and didn’t think twice about being in a small town where my Grandma was neighbors with the former chief of police and we knew most of the officers in town. However, this incident was late at night, the man could not identify if I was a threat- could not tell my color of skin. He was scared. He was open about his fear and while searching my car for drugs and asking why I was at the park, told me about his three kids and how more than anything he prays every night to be able to return safely home to them.
I am not disgusted by his fear, I am glad he was honest and I could tell he was sorry he escalated the situation. I would be fearful too with what see in the media and what evil I see in the world. But that’s why I am not an officer. Our officers need better training, less stress in the workplace, and more time to process what they go through. They need to not be victims of capitalism and treated with human dignity so that, that dignity can then be given to the citizens they protect.
As I was walking down the street yelling “DEFUND TPD” and “JUSTICE FOR BREONNA TAYLOR”, I was reminded that the shame I was feeling and the guilt- was because of my white privilege and white response. Aside from that one incident with the police, I have never been afraid of an interaction with the police, or to ask an officer for directions. I have felt safe in their care because they, feel safe around me. However, my story does not account for George, Breonna, Carlos, and the COUNTLESS other BIPOC lives lost to police violence and victims of racial prejudice.
Our police deserve and need proper training, they need support in their work, they do not need more weapons. Our officers are stressed because their presence is requested everywhere, their jobs are demanding. By reallocating funds and reimagining their jobs, we will relieve their stress and as a society push towards equal pay for equal work.
Defunding the police, will reprimand and hold racist officers accountable for their actions. Jobs could be cut; many jobs, need to be cut or more evaluated. Not all cops are racist but many live in fear. Defunding the police starts to rethink and imagine our system.
By defunding the police, we recognize that there is a problem in our leadership. Because although black on black crime is a valid acknowledgment, it misses the point. Our officers are our leaders and when our leaders show discrimination and disrespect, our community reflects these values. We cannot allow leaders to reinforce racism, we are doing that enough already.