Investing in Communities: A Human Security Budget

The International Protests Against Police Violence Show That We Need An Alternative

June 5, 2020

The international protests over George Floyd’s murder have cast into stark relief the need to change America’s policing system and rethink its role in communities. Cities and states have relied upon the police as the primary way to stabilize social relations and ensure the safety and security of citizens. The police currently operate as an arm of the national security state, one which looks at poorer cities and neighborhoods essentially as war zones. Militarized police forces and extreme cases of police brutality reflect this outlook. We propose a new answer to old questions like: “How do we ensure the safety and security of people?”

We propose human security as a necessary prerequisite to national security. Human security refers to living in dignity and freedom from fear through focused efforts toward racial and socioeconomic equity in healthcare, employment, public service, and criminal justice for the most vulnerable people in our country. A human security approach to policing would result in citizens not living in fear of the police, and police protecting and serving all American citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, or religion.

The national security model relies upon mass incarceration and a militant police force. Over the last fifty years, states and cities across the country increased their investment in policing as a response to social insecurity, and particularly a series of violent crime waves in the 1970s and 1980s. These violent crime waves themselves resulted from the deindustrialization of the workforce, which dropped many people from stable employment into the lower socioeconomic classes, and subsequent capital flight from city centers to the suburbs. Rather than working to provide greater unemployment assistance and develop jobs programs to bring people up from poverty or downward mobility, states and cities effectively funneled them into a rapidly expanding carceral system. Punitive measures were the preferred weapon against these economic processes, rather than investment in social welfare, and tough-on-crime politicians played upon ongoing racial animosity to pass such measures.

The protests over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers have exposed with striking clarity the illegitimacy of militarized policing. The current policing model creates fear between government and citizens, and even between citizens themselves, and comes at the expense of social support systems.

Social support systems have been weakened, but they are still viable alternatives. The recent news coming out of Los Angeles is a good example of the viability of social support alternatives. This past Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged to “identify $250 million in cuts so we can invest in jobs, in health, in education and in healing … as well as communities of color and women and people who have been left behind.” More work is required to hold the city accountable to their pledges to communities of color, but this is a good first step. Many more are needed.

Mayor Garcetti’s pledge is consistent with a more important imperative amid these turbulent times: to ensure human security as a way of ensuring national security. Our country’s decades-long militarization of the police, and the resulting tendency toward racist brutality and police violence, follows from the prioritization of national security over human security. This orientation is fundamentally reactionary: it looks at social insecurity and penalizes it. Human security is proactive; it strives to avoid human and social insecurity in the first place by holding people up, not driving them down into the carceral state. Therefore, human security is a foundation for national security. It is a framework through which we can build out better relationships between citizens and their representative institutions, an absolute prerequisite to any true sense of justice and security.

As one of the steps toward human security, we must redistribute funds from policing toward social support systems. The protestors and community organizations who negotiated budget promises from Mayor Garcetti have shown that this is a realistic request. Law enforcement must also be trained to uphold the values of human security: care for the social fabric they are supposed to protect, interdependence between the city and communal stakeholders, and freedom from fear of injustice.

A human security approach to policing necessitates a long political battle to change our criminal justice system. However, its achievement is entirely possible, and is in fact necessary given the international groundswell of support for an alternative to the current policing system. Human security, in all of its aspects, is a standard we should strive to achieve, together.



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