The defund the police movement clearly defines its goal. Its activists believe police officers are agents of violence inside the community. Their solution is to eliminate police.
However, these same defunders are very unclear about what is to replace the police. They carefully avoid the specifics about how their new order will be maintained.
The one thing that is known is that it will involve the community. The new buzzword is community. The replacements will be “community-based,” “community-driven” and “community-centered.” There is talk of “community outreach,” “community development,” “community building” and “community interaction.” The money taken from the police will be given to “community programs.” The word community sparks a magic feeling of goodwill that will replace violence in society.
Different Meanings of Community
Community means different things to different groups.
Most city officials see community as community centers, recreational activities, government aid schemes and social or cultural programs. These endeavors work inside the framework of local government and its bureaucracy.
What leftists have in mind when talking about community are self-governing forums in which residents might make local decisions that will change people’s lives and neighborhoods. The left works inside these forums mobilizing the masses to action.
To the conservative, the community is a social unit of caring individuals united in purpose to further the common good. It is full of institutions, organizations, and Edmund Burke called “little platoons” that get things done organically inside the natural process of the social body.
A Concept of Community That Once Existed
Regardless of what community means to people, there is one big problem with all these conceptions.
The classic idea of a community that once existed in America has been swallowed up by the culture. To demand “community-driven” solutions to remedy police problems is an empty proposition.
The historical notion of community was based on the happy juncture of families, farms, workplaces and churches in a given area that provided a common social life. Each community was a social unit with its way of being and expressing itself that was different from neighboring towns and cities. Where personalities and family ties were strong, a community might even develop its own accent, culture, art or cuisine.
Community Is a Solution
Inside this context, all those who now appeal to community to solve the police “problem” are right. Authentic communities can assume many functions of today’s overburdened police departments. Inside community structures, there would then be no need for massive budgets and equipment outlays.
Individuals inside such communities are zealous of their good names and act accordingly. When families inside communities are strong and healthy, they tend to take care of their own and minimize the need for policing and social aid. Likewise, neighborhoods full of strong families tend to produce their own monitoring systems that watch out for each other.
A strong sense of subsidiarity exists in which each level of community relies upon its own resources. This reduces the need for a strong central government and policing. People rely on the institutions that exist where they live and work together. In a community with a strong religious sense, the people voluntarily adhere to a moral code that is an enormous source of order and peace.
In such communities, the role of the police is limited. These solutions are organic and community-driven. All are oriented toward the common good and even the sanctification of community members.
Broken Communities Will Not Work
Remnants of this community spirit might survive here and there, but they no longer dominate. Sociologists like Charles Murray and Robert Putnam trace the decline of civic spirit with the Sexual Revolution of the sixties. They describe dysfunctional neighborhoods and communities nationwide that are “coming apart” primarily due to family breakdown.
The Sexual Revolution turned society upside down by breaking the social links that carried commitments and duties. It replaced them with a do-your-own-thing individualism that preached the freedom to do whatever pleases the person.
Marxist ideology also plays a role in the shattering of communities. It introduces a class-struggle narrative that pits one part of society against another. It creates a culture of resentment and anger against all types of moral restraint.
The result is a society that Alasdair MacIntyre so fittingly called “a meeting place for individual wills, each with its own set of attitudes and preferences and who understand the world solely as an arena for the achievement of their own satisfaction.”
An appeal to community fragments will not renew society or minimize the role of the police. When family life fades, order breaks down. Where the Church loses her influence, crime, immorality and corruption will thrive.
So many police are needed today in certain places because strong communities no longer exist. In their place are empty social spaces that need police to prevent the chaos of clashing wills from destroying all in its path.
The Wrong Call to Community
The defund the police movement calls upon the government to work with mythical “local organizations, leaders and residents” to rebuild communities. Activists demand immediate investment in “indigenous communities” and “communities of color” that do not exist as unified social units. They call upon the government to provide lots of money, social workers and professional planning.
Such appeals reduce a community to a mechanical and systematic use of resources. Building a community is an organic process that works with human resources, abilities and aspirations. It includes natural and spiritual means that bond people together in charity. A “community” plastered together with experts, dollars, and leftist community organizers and activists is not a community but a Frankenstein monster.
Elements of a True Community
A community presupposes some healthy families that are willing to bond together to work out their problems. It requires leaders who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the common good and take upon themselves the burden of responsibility for others. There needs to be a guiding intelligence to carry projects ahead in the long term.
Above all, there needs to be the light of Christian morality, which makes it easier to practice virtue in common. There must be the fire of Christian charity whereby people love one another for the love of God and practice forbearance with each other’s defects.
Without the stability of these essential elements that activists never mention, community-building is doomed to fail.
On the Road to Socialism
Indeed, the leftist agenda is hostile to the family and faith. It can never build a truly authentic community. In reality, its “community-driven,” “community-led,” or “community-centered” programs are state-driven initiatives leading to socialism.
The left does not hide the predominant role of the government in these “community” projects. Police abolitionist Mychal Denzel Smith writes in The Atlantic about solutions that will call for “an overall restructuring of our economic and political order.” The new order he desires would be “a massive public investment in the general welfare—safe housing, healthy food, free education, free health care, a basic income.”
It would also require massive government structures and funding to implement these plans. It would not expect people or families to abandon their sinful lifestyles and foster virtue to advance the common good.
Defunding the police in times of social decadence is a dangerous proposition. Far more dangerous, however, is establishing leftist “communities.”