In 2017, when a shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds in Dallas was driving up the number of 911 calls, overwhelming emergency rooms and crowding jails with mentally ill people, the city decided to try something different.
It put an officer, a paramedic and a social worker in every car responding to mental health calls in the city’s troubled south-central region, an attempt to get people the help they needed without an arrest or violent confrontation. The pilot program, RIGHT Care, led to a drop in arrests in the area.
RIGHT Care is one of several programs across the country drawing the attention of activists seeking to end law enforcement's systemic abuse of black Americans. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police last month, protesters in many cities have said they are fed up with trying to change police behavior and are instead advancing a more radical idea: to “defund the police” by cutting their budgets and offloading police functions to other municipal departments or community groups.
“There is no magic switch to turn off and boom there’s no police department,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College, whose 2017 book “The End of Policing” has become a manifesto for protesters and police-reform advocates.
“People are trying to figure out what kind of society would be possible that doesn’t rely on police and prisons to solve its problems, and that’s a long-term political vision that is important to this movement. But if you look at what people are doing on the ground, it’s taking money for gang enforcement and spending it on after-school programs and youth counselors. It’s about going to budget hearings and lobbying city council members and holding town hall meetings in neighborhood centers.”
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