The death of Walter Wallace Jr proves why defunding the police makes so much sense

Victoria Gagliardo-Silver
·4-min read
 ((Associated Press))
((Associated Press))

One hundred and forty-two Black people have been shot to death by the police this year, that we know of. The latest victim of extrajudicial murder at the hands of the police was Walter Wallace Jr. of Philadelphia, a 27-year-old man who was shot in front of his mother by cops who were responding to a mental health call. This is a regular day in America. Â If a bullet was apt treatment for a mental health crisis, a lot of therapists would be out of a job.

In the eyes of society, Black men aren’t “allowed” to be mentally ill. Their behavior is always deemed a threat to others, even when their actions aren’t threatening in the slightest or they’re only a threat to themselves. We see it here; we saw it in the case of Elijah McClain, who was dosed with far more ketamine than appropriate at the order of arresting police; we see it in the case of Miles Hall. The police killing unarmed Black men in crisis is pattern behavior, which indicates that the police are not equipped to deal with people in crisis, period.

Police bias against Black people is proven in the data. Officers are more likely to stop and use force against Black people, according to a study done in California. Black men are twice as likely to be killed by police as white men — and older, mentally ill, unarmed Black men are five times more likely to be killed than their white counterparts. Calling the police on a Black person might be the first step toward their death. Amy Cooper surely knew this when she claimed that Christian Cooper was assaulting her and her dog in Central Park. Call carefully.

As Philadelphia takes to the streets in the same way New York, Minneapolis and Louisville did, we’re reaching a common consensus that there’s only one solution to an issue this widespread. We must find alternatives to policing, because American policing is fundamentally flawed.

With a gun and authority should come responsibility, and yet we rarely see any accountability from police who end the lives of those they’re meant to defend. Extrajudicial murder of black people is as American as apple pie, baseball, and hot dogs. It is baked into our culture, from Emmett Till to Breonna Taylor. The method of how is the only thing that has changed, from lynchings to a bullet from the boys in blue.

Much of this year has been spent taking to the streets, organizing protests and actions to make it clear that police brutality against people of color is a systemic issue. We call to defund and abolish the police, but many are confused about what that would look like. It’s a scary concept to imagine life without the ability to call for defense on demand, but abolishing the police is likely not what you imagine.

The police have become a paramilitary force. Do we really need LRAD’s, devices designed for military use that can cause permanent hearing damage, weaponized against Americans exercising their First Amendment rights? Those taxpayer dollars could be invested in mutual aid and community resources rather than allocated to riot cops with the means to harm citizens. With studies indicating there are high rates of domestic violence in police families, 35 out of 50 states allowing police rape while detained, and the rape kit backlog, nearly anything is a better solution than the fraternal culture of policing that deprioritizes women and people of color so blatantly.

We can radically reimagine how we respond to crises. We can invest in mental health task forces that are trained to de-escalate rather than respond with violence. We can have specialized individuals trained to respond to domestic violence, rape, sexual assault and mental health crises with compassion, coping skills, and community care.

We can have addiction treatment centers instead of prisons. We can push for rehabilitation instead of penalization. We have the opportunity to elect people to our governing bodies that will make this policy instead of imagination. The means and the funds exist — the demand just has to match it.

Demand it, for your mentally ill loved ones, for your friends and family of color, for the women in your life. Create a better America by dismantling the system from the inside out.