The Philosophical Ethics of Why I Disagree with “Defund the Police”

A 2020 Slogan of the Cities and Streets of America
“Defund the police.” My immediate response to that plea, with little or no rational reflection, is that it would not be a bad idea, and use the money allotted to police departments throughout America for some other worthwhile human projects, whatever the respective legislators of a city or town deem to be “worthwhile projects.”
 
But upon further reflection, there is something wrong with the idea. First, the assumption of the plea to “Defund the police” has a rather simplistic notion about human nature. America’s police departments might be defunded, were it not for the fact of the finite, fallible nature of human beings. “To err is human.” Human beings, left to themselves, are inclined to commit moral errors, to “transgress” on the rights of other human beings. That is why there are “checks and balances” in the Constitution of the United States of America. Where one “branch” of government goes wrong, hopefully, another branch will challenge and correct it.
 
Second, “To err is human” also applies to errors in human judgments, that is, in thinking about right and wrong. To “Defund the police” would be right, if human beings were always morally upright or, even better, morally prefect. But the fact of the matter is that they are not. Hence, to “Defund the police” is not a good idea. It is, quite simply, wrong.
 
Third, “Defund the police” is not practical. In other words, it does not work in the “real world,” – the space-time world in which human beings, creatures of common sense – live. For example, in 2021, almost a year after the “chant” “Defund the police,” in not a few American cities and towns, crime is on the rise and there are even “calls” from mayors to the federal government to help fight crime in their cities. Why? The reason is rooted in common sense and is obvious: Americans need the police. They need the many good and courageous men and women in America’s police departments. The police are needed to enforce the law, arrest and apprehend criminals, protect the human rights of American citizens and to restore order in public.
 
Fourth, there is one final reason, a logical one, that “Defund the police” is a bad idea. Let me explain: Abusing something good is not a “valid” reason for rejecting the good itself. For instance, abuse in the practice of medicine is not a good reason for rejecting medicine; nor is abuse in positions of government a proper reason for rejecting government itself; nor, still less, is abuse in the practice of the law a good reason for rejecting the law itself. In the words of a Latin saying, Abusus non tollit usum, which may be translated, “Abuse does not remove use.”
 
Therefore, abuse in power, such as instances of police brutality, is not a good reason for rejecting and defunding the proper power that the police exercise for the common good, the good of a human community.
 
 

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