Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 and the nationwide protests which followed, police reform has re-emerged as a hot-button issue around the country. Contributing to the conversations surrounding police brutality that have arisen over the summer, USF junior Mike’l Gregory hosted a virtual event on Aug. 18 with San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) Chief William Scott and Clarence B. Jones., director of USF’s Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice and former counsel to Martin Luther King, to discuss their vision for the future of policing in the U.S.
“The motivation behind this event was having an honest dialogue about policing through a social-political lens amongst three entirely different generations,” Gregory said. “Our purpose was to acknowledge the differences but also highlight the inter-generational similarities.”
Jones recalled the past treatment of Black people, specifically that of protesters during the Birmingham campaign in Alabama during the civil rights movement in 1963, in order to contextualize our current moment.
“What we saw in Birmingham, and what we saw recently, raises the repetitive question as to what kind of nation we are,” said Jones. “What kind of nation are we that permits a man to bleed and say for eight minutes and forty seconds, ‘I can’t breathe.’ What kind of country permits this?”
“This picture, I’ve seen before. The question: what is different in terms of the response?” said Jones. “The confidence in the integrity of the police was perceived to be lower by principly African Americans, but now it’s perceived to be lower by a majority of people in this country.”
Scott recognized the magnitude of this current moment during the talk. “I’ve been in the business for 31 years now and I’ve never seen the willingness like I do today to change … Never have we had a movement this powerful in our generation,” Scott said. “It offers us a tremendous opportunity, but we have to not forget our history. Things are the way they are because of the way they’ve been.”
Among activists, there has been a widespread call to defund the police. Jones expressed that he understands the motivation behind this sentiment, but does not believe it to be the best solution to police brutality in the US. “In this country, money is power so [people] conclude if you take away the money [the police] are not gonna have the power to hurt us,” Jones said. “I believe the police are more needed today to enable people in the [Black] community to fulfill their aspirations.”
Falling in line with many other municipalities across the country, San Francisco has announced its own police reform, including the reallocation of police funds into Black communities.
“Who can argue with the need to reallocate resources to communities who most need those resources? I know the mayor is going to do that thoughtfully. I believe our city will do that thoughtfully,” Scott said. “We still do need police services, particularly in Black communities that are the hardest hit by violent crime; hardest hit by some of the very issues that the refunding hopes to address. There has to be a balance.”