As a Black woman, I have experienced many sides of harm. I was convicted of a violent offense against a person from my own community. I am a Black mother who tragically lost my young son to gun violence. I am the twin of a brother who went to prison. I am a victim and a survivor of violence. I am a sister who lost my big brother, Che Taylor, at the hands of the police.
Since George Floyd’s killing, efforts to end police violence have resulted in calls to “defund” police. Those leading the “defund” effort utilize a narrow lens, forsaking issues like youth gun violence, despite its inherent entanglement with police violence. Too often “defund” activists discount the experiences and voices of people like me who have broad and deep experience within the legal system.
There’s no question that policing must change. Yet, I see a bigger picture of the violence harming Black and brown people, especially youth, and I am not convinced that abolishing police is the most effective strategy to help those impacted every day by crime and policing.
As a mother of Black children, I’m not only concerned about unnecessary use of deadly force by police, but also about youth being killed in our neighborhoods. Urban gun violence accounts for more homicides than any other type of violence. The Black community cannot afford to completely dismantle police while simultaneously facing high rates of gun violence and victimization.
There’s a need for police presence in communities that are overrun by violence. When we critique police budgets, we must do so without further jeopardizing the safety of Black women and children who are most at risk of being sexually exploited and trafficked, as well as victims of urban gun violence. Data from the King County Prosecutor’s Office reports that 44% of child trafficking victims are Black girls. Half of homicide victims are 18-24 year-olds, with 45% being Black youth. Gun violence continues to rise in King County, jumping 61% in Seattle in 2020, the highest number of murders in 26 years. For Black men between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States, homicide, mostly by gunfire, is still the leading cause of death by far.
Obviously, I have concerns about law enforcement, prosecutors and the prison system. But when someone is held at gunpoint, I want trained professionals to show up on a moment’s notice. I understand that it is difficult to expect justice from a system that has historically harmed Black and brown communities, but the community is not currently equipped to police itself, let alone execute fair and appropriate responses to acts of serious harm. We further devalue Black life when crimes go unpunished.
I work in close partnership with others who, like me, lost a loved one at police hands. We belong to a club that no one wants to join. We have taken what we learned to help pass unprecedented new laws in Washington that will change how police do their jobs. This includes a ban on chokeholds, restricting hot pursuits, a statewide use-of-force policy, de-escalation requirements, higher standards for police certification and stronger criminal investigations of deaths at the hands of police. Nearly 20 impacted families from diverse cultures and backgrounds testified about the deaths of our loved ones time and again, using our lived experience to inform these bills and push for accountability.
Unfortunately, local “defund” activists did not support our police accountability reforms. They see spending money on accountability as “throwing good money after bad.” This also causes harm. I respect the work that “defund” activists do, and would like to see that respect reciprocated for impacted families working for reforms. Telling us we’re “wasting our time” or acting like we’re “colonized” just adds insult to injury. We have suffered the ultimate sacrifice, and deserve to have our perspectives respected.
While I agree wholeheartedly with moving funding away from police departments and into community-led public safety approaches, efforts must be informed by those most impacted. Abandoning reform while police still exist leaves us in grave danger. There is good reason to continue passing reforms while working toward new approaches in responding to crime and crisis. One is my brother, killed by the Seattle police. The other is my son, killed by another teenager. We need people working together from all perspectives to dismantle racist policing and secure permanent change.