Why “Defund the Police”?

July 25, 2020

A PDF version of this bulletin can be read and downloaded here. To read RAFT’s full list of demands, click here.

What we mean when we say “defund the police” 

RAFT’s demand to defund the police is focused first and foremost on Temple administration taking the funds it currently channels into the Philadelphia Police and armed Temple Police, in any form, and reallocating those funds to education, student care, and rebuilding Temple’s damaged relationship with the surrounding North Philadelphia community.

Why you should support this demand

While it’s true that “defund the police” has become a rallying cry in the past few weeks, and universities across the country have been reacting by breaking their financial ties with metropolitan police departments, RAFT has explicitly set racial justice as a priority from its inception in March 2020. The recent turmoil in the US demonstrates that RAFT’s racial justice stance reflects a broader, simmering public opinion. Indeed, “defund the police” has become a mainstream demand. 

Furthermore, our demand to defund the police is inextricably linked to the rest of the RAFT demands. According to the most recent available data, Temple has the largest campus police force in the United States. The money that is spent training and maintaining that force could be reallocated to improving education for students by, for example, retaining adjunct jobs and investing in services that support students and the community. 

Most importantly, this issue is directly connected to the current struggles of contingent faculty – as well as students and other colleagues (not to mention the communities of North Philadelphia). Many of our students, colleagues, and neighbors are harassed by police and, in fact, find that their presence is a cause of insecurity, not safety. If students and faculty of color are under surveillance and under siege, that directly affects their ability to learn and to teach. For many faculty and students, especially those of color, police violence is a workplace and education safety issue. The broader community of North Philadelphia is also subject to abuse by police.

Ultimately, you should support this demand not because it seeks to ameliorate some abstract historical tension, but because it has a direct and immediate effect on the health and academic careers of your students and colleagues.

Do police make us safer?

In our conversations with students, it is clear that many are afraid of the police. Students who are sexually assaulted often do not want to involve campus police because they are harassed by those very same officers. Students of color are afraid to go through Temple student services for fear that their case may end up in the hands of the police. And yet we have seen how the Temple Police are ready when there’s a need to protect private property or the reputation of the university. Regardless of what the intentions of any individual officer might be, there is a culture and history that shape the way the police function as an institution.

We believe there are several layers to this. First, the police are increasingly militarized, and officers are indoctrinated to see people, especially in communities of color, as a potential threat. Second, at the same time that militarization of the police and overfunded police departments have become the norm over the last few decades – further entrenching the institution’s historical function of disciplining communities of color – “trickle down” economic policies and draconian cuts to public services and resources have devastated communities. Homelessness is criminalized, and drug addiction is treated as a crime rather than a public health issue. Vulnerable communities are made more vulnerable when resources are cut, then criminalized and over-policed for their vulnerability.

It is therefore the lack of resources and services that lead to high crime rates (for a given definition of “crime”), and police presence will only make these communities even more insecure because – third – in the absence of services and resources, we expect the police to respond to countless situations they are ill-equipped to handle. We expect them to do the work of social workers, counsellors, health care professionals, and many other kinds of specialists without any of the necessary training. And instead of sending them to the scene prepared for that kind of work, we send them to the scene with a gun, plus the fear that they will be attacked, plus the knowledge that they are practically immune if they do end up killing someone. These expectations are not only not fair to vulnerable communities that are over-policed and under-serviced; they are not fair to those individual police officers who genuinely want to protect people.

Finally, whatever are the stated goals of police departments, the reality is that they function to protect and preserve the status quo. There is a long history of white supremacist policing in Philadelphia,1 from as early as 1838 when white Philadelphians, with the tacit approval of the Committee on Police, burned down Pennsylvania Hall to stop an interracial meeting of abolitionists; to the racist policies of former police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo; and beyond. In 1964, tensions in North Philadelphia boiled over in response to police brutality against communities of color. In 1985, eleven people – including five children – were killed when police bombed a residential city street in West Philadelphia in an attempt to target the Black activist collective MOVE. Police attacked West Philadelphia again on May 31, 2020, essentially gassing an entire neighborhood.

In 1998, as police departments across the country were benefiting from the Clinton administration’s increased federal funds for police, the Committee of Seventy described the PPD as a “military-like organization” in the very first sentence of its overview of the department. In 2010, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a class action lawsuit over the PPD’s racist stop and frisk practices. CompStat, the statistical management tool used by the PPD to track crime, has been shown in the NYPD to have shaped the evolution of the police department into a machine that deliberately, explicitly, and systematically targets young black men in particular neighborhoods. In most police departments it’s not even safe for police officers, who may fear for their lives – their own comrades failing to rescue them from a dangerous situation, for example –  if they dare to speak up when they witness abuse.2 And, incidentally, increased militarization doesn’t keep police safe, either.

When you have a picture of the history from the beginning to the present all in one snapshot, it becomes easier to see how attempted reforms have done little to change the character and function of the institution. Ever since the Clinton administration, police departments across the country, including the PPD, have become more and more militarized as a result of “tough on crime” and “law and order” policies.3 And yet this has failed to make anyone any safer. In many cities and neighborhoods, the police have the character of an occupying force rather than the provider of a service to the community.

We’ve seen in recent weeks how the Philadelphia Police respond to peaceful protest, and we’ve seen an officer’s willingness to lie about his motivation for brutally beating a Temple engineering student. We’ve also seen countless examples of how quick police officers are to use pepper spray, unprovoked – including on an independent journalist and Temple graduate. Again, this is not a unique exigency of the current moment. Looking specifically at TUPD, two former Temple Police officers sued the university in 2018 for racial discrimination within the force. That same year, two former Temple police officers were sentenced for beating a woman to death in 2016.

There is a lack of transparency around the reports and operations of Temple Police, even vis-à-vis the PPD itself, and arrest rates by TUPD soar in the surrounding community compared to on-campus arrests. In 2017, Temple Police allegedly held a local high school student at gunpoint as part of a stop-and-frisk operation.

Many assert that the presence of a police force makes the campus and the community safe – but safe for whom? Safe from whom?

Temple’s ties to the Philadelphia Police Foundation

On June 26, President Englert sent out this uncharacteristically brief message:

In the past, Temple has provided a small amount of support to the Philadelphia Police Foundation through charitable donations. Upon review and community input, we have decided that the university will no longer provide this support.

Instead, Temple will reallocate these funds to support social justice programs at the university.

This shows how effective pressure put on the administration by student and alumni activists, and their allies in the community and among faculty, can be. The social media campaigns of student organizations and the open letters and petitions they circulated were immensely powerful. Englert’s message also came two days after the University of Pennsylvania made the same move, and not long after Englert’s June 7 email, which stated that despite demands from students and alumni to cut ties with the PPD, “We do not believe that doing so would be in the best interest of Temple students, faculty and staff, and our neighbors in the surrounding community.” 

Englert’s June 26 message thus appears to be a promising capitulation to the demands of students, alumni, faculty, and members of the community. At the same time, the brevity and timing of the message is concerning and raises many questions. What about Temple’s continued ties with the Philadelphia Police Department, referenced in Englert’s June 7 email? Will William T. Bergman, Vice President for Public Affairs at Temple, continue to sit on the board of the PPF?4 What about the Temple Police, whose sworn officers are trained by the PPD? What exactly is meant by “social justice programs”? And will Englert’s retirement void these messages, or will the Board of Trustees stand by them once a new President is selected? 

The Temple Police are basically an arm of the PPD. So as long as they exist, Temple is still funding policing in Philadelphia. We feel that President Englert’s June 26 message is an attempt to pacify us and put a halt to continued pressure on the administration. They want to avoid a fight, and to see the issue put to rest with minimal concessions on their part. We should not be placated by this gesture.

As of June 25, before Englert’s announcement, Temple University and Temple Health were two major partners of the Philadelphia Police Foundation (PPF). Patrick O’Connor, the former Chair of Temple’s Board of Trustees (until 2019) also sits on the board of the Philadelphia Police Foundation, which could help to explain why Temple has had such a close relationship with the PPF for so many years. According to the PPF website, the Foundation has raised nearly $1.5 million for the Philadelphia Police Department over the last three years, thanks to partners like Temple.5 This money has gone to pay for new long guns for the SWAT unit, ballistic helmets for the elite tactical SWAT unit, drones, and intelligence software, among other things.

Temple’s proposed budget for 2019-2020 includes $27.5 million for “campus safety,” a line that is not itemized any further. To put that dollar amount into some perspective, it is $10 million more than the entire budget for the College of Education. Yet there is no transparency on what exactly “campus safety” entails.

Perhaps most importantly, the one question that is consistently not addressed is why does Temple have these relationships with the police in the first place?

What should replace the police?

On a short-term, more superficial level, it should be clear by now that the money Temple spends on policing every year could be put toward job security for contingent faculty, or health benefits, or student services, or for underfunded departments like Africology. The current RCM budget model is not an excuse for failing to do the latter.

On a deeper level, the concept behind “defund the police” is that public safety and security are not guaranteed by policing and incarceration, but rather work to undermine it. Public safety and security, for everyone, requires investment in affordable housing, mental health services, social services, and civilian community interventions. We do not need the police to round up homeless people or arrest them for recycling too many aluminum cans. We do not need the police to terrorize children by disciplining or arresting them in their schools. We do not need police to stop and frisk local high school students. We do not need police with guns to show up to any situation that can be dealt with through peaceful means.

The cuts in services and social welfare that began in the 1980s continue to limit people’s choices and contribute to insecurity, which in turn has justified increases in police budgets to control what are seen as “crime-ridden” neighborhoods. But it is the lack of social safety nets, not the lack of police, that cause an increase in the type of crime that police on the street are asked to respond to. We believe that one of the most important aspects of the “defund the police” demand is not to simply limit funding to police, but to immediately reallocate that money to more appropriate programs and services that will help people rather than criminalize their existence.

For Temple, those reallocated funds could be put toward student services that are lacking, such as Tuttleman Counseling Services, the Cherry Pantry, Title IX, and Disability Services. In many ways the university is a microcosm of society – the police are expected to handle crises of all kinds, while the services that actually specialize in handling those crises languish. In terms of President Englert’s statement that “Temple will reallocate these funds to support social justice programs at the university,” RAFT supports the demands of the Temple Law Students for Equitable Responses to COVID-19 in their petition, including the demand to “Create a committee of community members, students and professors to determine which programs to support” with the reallocated funds.

We intend to elaborate on some of our visions for care and accountability in a post-police world in a future bulletin – but the above paragraphs provide a general idea of what we think that would initially look like.

Let’s demand that Temple live up to its stated ideals and defund the police

As part of its mission as a public university, one of Temple’s three ideals is “promoting service and engagement throughout Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the nation and the world.” The President of the University is supposed to work “closely with faculty, administrators, trustees, students and alumni to set the university’s goals and uphold its mission.” Temple claims to be an “essential resource to the surrounding community” and that it “remains a beacon of public service, social activism and community engagement.”

We therefore call on the Board of Trustees and the administration to ensure that Temple live up to these claims, and to its own mission statement. And make no mistake, actions will speak louder than words or empty gestures. As Rafael Walker, assistant professor of English at Baruch College in New York, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

What universities can do to console their communities in the wake of tragedies is to explain what concrete steps they have taken in ensuring that these tragedies do not happen again. They should detail their commitments not to abstractions but to real groups of people and real departments and programs, in the form of allocations of finances and personnel.

As an educational institution, education should be Temple’s top priority – not policing. 

Organizations, petitions, and letters endorsed by RAFT

The Temple University Coalition for Change

Student-led Open Letter Demanding Temple University Withdraw Sponsorship to the Philadelphia Police Fund

Law Students for Equitable Responses to COVID-19 petition: Temple University, Defund Temple Police Department and Cut Ties with PPD (and its accompanying full letter to President Englert)

Africology Graduate Students’ letter to President Englert

Student-led petition for students and alumni to Boycott & Withhold Funds to Temple Until it Stops Funding the PPD

Defund TUPD

  1. See: Alexander Elkins, “‘At Once Judge, Jury, and Executioner’: Rioting and Policing in Philadelphia, 1838-1964,” Bulletin of the German Historical Institute, Spring 2014; and “Special Report: Black and Blue,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 2020.
  2. For more on this, listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of “The Crime Machine” by the podcast Reply All.
  3. See also the film The 13th on Netflix or on YouTube.
  4. See this web archive of the PPF website page listing its Board of Directors: https://web.archive.org/web/20191213204651/https://phillypolicefoundation.org/about/. Here he goes by the informal moniker “Bill” and is listed as Vice President & Chief of Staff, Office of the President.
  5. See this web archive of the PPF website page about its partners and what its partners’ donation money is spent on: https://web.archive.org/web/20191130222636/https://phillypolicefoundation.org/. Apparently, around June 13, the entire PPF website was taken down and every page replaced by a letter expressing outrage at the killing of George Floyd, outrage at attacks on police, and the declaration that policing must “get it right.” Also on this page is a statement of the PPF mission and an appeal for donations: https://phillypolicefoundation.org/. We still do not know how much of that $1.5 million was contributed by Temple.

One thought on “Why “Defund the Police”?

  1. With tears in these ancient eyes, I read and applaud your efforts and perspective in keeping up the challenge to bring about real and just change at my alma mater.

    Liked by 1 person

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