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Why Black leaders stand against Invest to Protect Act

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Two years ago, people took to the streets calling for justice in light of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police. And yet, despite the massive protests and large-scale media attention that led to shows of solidarity from national and local political leaders, influencers, and even major corporations, Black people continue to struggle against the constant threat of police violence. 

In the last month alone, our communities lost Jason Owens, who was killed while serving as a pallbearer at his father’s funeral; Jayland Walker, who was shot four dozen times during a traffic stop and Donovan Lewis, who was killed while lying in bed. And we know that unless the Biden administration changes course, we will lose many more lives to policing.

That’s why more than 65 national organizations serving Black communities have urged the House and Congressional Black Caucus to take a stand against the Invest to Protect Act, the COPS on the Beat Program Reauthorization and Parity Act, as well as any other proposal that invests in policing. The Black-led organizations have joined an open letter opposing these bills.

While the Invest to Protect Act was passed by the House as part of a policing package this week, it still needs the Senate’s approval. 

Make no mistake — while the intent of these bills may be to maintain law and order in local communities, these measures in reality fund and encourage militarized policing and lead to harassment, incarceration and even death of Black people. 

The fact that this proposed legislation comes on the heels of President Biden’s Safer America Act shows an appalling disregard of what Black communities actually need and want — to defund police and policing, while investing in community resources like quality education, mental health and health care.

Police budgets are already bloated, and despite their ample resources, all evidence points to the fact that policing does not decrease crime. In fact, state and local police departments have received more than $14 billion in Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) funding in the past 25 years — not including the $100 million received merely a month ago through the Safer Communities Act, which was intended to be used for COVID-19 relief and recovery. Yet, time and time again, we have seen how  local police departments are unable to prevent harm or increase the overall safety of a city, often escalating violent situations.

That’s how traffic stops, one of the most common interactions with the police, become deadly encounters. Over 400 unarmed people have been killed by police in traffic stops over the past five years and that number likely only continues to climb. Many of the drivers and passengers struck down and killed by police were Black. 

Although it’s been said that no one is above the law, police officers usually are. Most police officers are almost never convicted for their actions, even when they face criminal charges. The “use of force standard” has given police the liberty to arrest, beat and kill if they claim to have feared for their lives. Meanwhile, qualified immunity allows police officers to walk if their exact misconduct has never been ruled unlawful in another case. 

That’s the reality of policing. It is a model that is inherently dangerous for Black, brown, LGBTQ+ and poor people, lacking in all accountability to communities that police are said to be sworn to protect. This is not a system that needs more funding, but rather needs serious reimagining. 

We all want to be safe in our neighborhoods and schools and communities. But in order to get there, we need to rethink what public safety looks like. Our people should be able to live in a world that is free and safe from the violence and racism of policing.

Judith Browne Dianis is executive director of Advancement Project.

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