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Someone asked what would have happened on 9-11 if the police had been “defunded”. The assumption is a worse disaster, and they may be right. There were a number of heroes in blue that fateful day in Manhattan when the towers were hit, and we should be grateful for them and their sacrifices. But there was also a large number of emergency workers — entire fire departments were wiped out. But most impressively, many private citizens ran to help instead of the opposite direction. In a way, it made less sense for the police to be there than fire, etc.. There was no one to arrest and no peace to keep by virtue of their badge and gun, which technically is their core function. I would suggest they went above their duty as human beings that day, not because of their job.

I believe this from personal experience. I remember evacuating a nursing home from a bomb threat on the West Side circa 1989. The police wouldn’t enter the building, and the fire department was slow to respond. My friends and I (at the college dorm that shared a parking lot with them) grabbed whoever we could to help go floor by floor and escort people in walkers down stairwells for over an hour.

I’m not berating the police here. I’m just saying they aren’t paid to be knights in shining armor and we shouldn’t expect them to be or give them the power, immunity, and exemption from oversight based on a false idolization. The perceived role has grown out of hand, and many of them agree.

We need to move beyond the oversimplified slogan and think about what most are really meaning once we really try to listen. “Defund the Police” actually means giving law enforcement the work they are trained to do that makes sense, not play babysitter or social worker or grievance mediator. Those resources can be used in education, mental health counseling, etc., to prevent most crime before it happens. And none of their expensive military gear makes them properly equipped for these civilian issues. In fact, it’s created many of the problems with police culture the rest of us think is necessary or acceptable.

The narrative that those who want less or more limited police in the overall community service paradigm aren’t cowards, and aren’t going to cry to mommy if a cop shows up an hour after a crime instead of ten minutes. But if we reinvent the responder schema, police will arguably not only serve the public better and rebuild trust, but not need them as much even for the hard stuff. At least I would hope that would be a goal people could agree on.

But I fear most of us are too used to dealing with crime and social issues after the fact, in which case there’s “nothing to see here, move along…” and we just keep posting memes and supporting the “Blue Line” just as it is, building more prisons and dodging lawsuits and riots as we go along. But that’s not everyone’s America, nor should it be anyone’s.