Black Lives Matter wants Phoenix to rethink police spending, role
PHOENIX – A local Black Lives Matter activist said Phoenix protesters want the city and state to rethink the role of law enforcement and how it’s funded.
“An expensive militarized police force is no longer justifiable,” Jamaar Williams of Black Lives Matter Metro Phoenix told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Wednesday.
“We live a state that spends over $1 billion on a prison system while our teachers ask for money on Facebook. That’s absolutely embarrassing.”
Black Lives Matter and other local organizers have been leading protests against police brutality and racial inequality in Phoenix and across the Valley for two weeks in the wake of George Floyd’s in-custody death in Minnesota.
One of the things protesters in Arizona and across the nation have been advocating is to “defund the police,” a rallying cry seen as controversial and extreme by some.
Williams, a public defense attorney, explained the concept, saying he’d like to see Phoenix move some of the $745 million it spends on police to other programs that would improve residents’ lives and reduce the need for law enforcement.
“Why can’t we envision a world where we don’t need police?,” he said. “Isn’t that what we all want?”
He said he wants Phoenix to reallocate funds from the police department to address issues such as food deserts, lack of affordable housing, the homeless population, unemployment, public transportation and arts programs.
Williams said the law enforcement system in place doesn’t work anymore.
“We need to move beyond this idea of punitive justice and replace it with restorative justice, transformative justice, a system that actually helps heal and doesn’t create more harm and more violence in its response to harm and violence,” he said.
Williams, who said he’s never called the police, doesn’t buy the argument that the current system is vital for preventing crimes.
“When you get your house broken into, you call police, they come after the fact. What you need is someone actually just to write a report so you can get it to your insurance company, so you can get your stuff replaced,” he said.
“Or someone’s long gone by the time police come, and what you need is someone to help you feel safe again or someone to counsel you through the trauma you just experienced. Police don’t serve those needs.”
Williams also believes that if governments spent more on mental health services, it would reduce what they’d need spend on incarceration.
“We’ve replaced our mental health system in this nation with local jails and prisons, and there was no reason for us to do that,” he said.
“It bolstered a … police state that we no longer have a use for and that we keep dumping millions and millions of dollars into. We need to rethink that idea.”