This article will do something different than the opinion pieces I normally write. I want to empower you to opt-in to the global movement to defund police and invest in communities.
I want to acknowledge that I was slow to fully show up for this movement. I was slow to show up even though I have never felt safe around police and have felt more unsafe following each interaction. I was slow to show up despite my lack of faith in the criminal justice system and my ongoing support for overpoliced marginalised communities. I grew up in an overpoliced marginalised community. I still did not fully grasp that it was possible to imagine a world without police. However, it is never too late to start imagining new possibilities and to start showing up. In fact, I am asking you to start.
This is a call to action, albeit a small and simple one. If you scroll down, you will find an email template based on an email that I wrote to the South Australian Premier and a few other examples.
This call to action is happening because the South Australian Police have recently been allocated over $9 million in funding to immediately deploy special forces police armed with semi-automatic weapons to public places such as Rundle Mall (pictured below).
This funding has been allocated under the guise of terrorism concerns, particularly at major events. However, worldwide calls to demilitarise and defund police have received perhaps more traction than ever before. This is despite decades of abolitionist work aimed at funding solutions to community issues, instead of funding police.
A major reason that communities call for a reduction of abolition of police is because of police violence. Police violence in the US is currently in the spotlight but is just as relevant here in Australia, where I am writing from. Australian Police have a violent history with every marginalised group, women, queer people, sex workers, people with disabilities, and in particular, Indigenous Australians.
This move by the South Australian government to pour funding into arming police with semi-automatic weapons is the opposite of what communities are calling for. We know from observing the US that militarising the police does not keep communities safer and in fact actively harms marginalised people, in particular black people.
In South Australia, the police budget is already astronomical. $896 million was allocated to police services in the 2019-20 state budget (see below). The only other sector expenses larger than this were hospital services, $5028 million, pre-primary and primary education, $2677 million, and secondary education, $1676 million. The South Australian Police cost more than the combined cost of community health services, $415 million, and “housing and community amentities”, $331 million.
I am asking you to use your voice to demand that the $9 million allocated to the South Australian police for a militarised taskforce be reallocated to the community. We need to fund housing, mental health, and services for Indigenous Australians. We do not need to fund militarised police.
You are welcome to use the template below as is, or amend it to suit what you want to say. You are welcome to use what I have said above as well. I have included a couple of other, shorter, examples that might help too.
Make sure you address your email to the South Australian Premier, Steven Marshall, the Attorney General, Vickie Chapman, and the Minister for Police, Corey Wingard.
mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; AttorneyGeneral@sa.gov.au
Suggested subject: Police armed with semi-automatic weapons do not make me feel safe
[Your chosen greeting, for example: Hi Steven, Corey, Vickie, and teams,]
[Your feelings about the latest announcement, for example: I am deeply disturbed] to learn that there will be an increase in police armed with semi-automatic weapons in our public spaces, including Rundle Mall. Police all over the world, including here in South Australia, have shown us that they are capable of abusing their position and using excessive force. We know that these abuses of power and consequent violence are more likely to occur in relation to and further harm our most marginalised community members.
It is no coincidence that women are reluctant to report domestic and sexual violence to the police.
It is no coincidence that queer communities do not want police involved in key celebrations like Pride and Mardi Gras.
It is no coincidence that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have called for police to be removed from remote communities among other crucial criminal justice reform.
[Add others or change the above to suit you]
This is not only insensitive and out of touch given the history of police violence globally and nationally, and ongoing police violence towards marginalised people including in South Australia; it flies in the face of the local, national, and global efforts to bring attention to police violence and ensure action is taken.
The age of criminal responsibility is currently under review and Vickie Chapman is moving to take up recommendations from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody so that First Nations people are adequately supported when incarcerated. But, recently your government, and you specifically, failed to act decisively when police assaulted an Aboriginal man in Kilburn. Communities are increasingly calling for police budgets to be reduced and redistributed to community services. The latest announcement about armed police in public spaces is likely to be expensive and flies in the face of moves to reform policing and reduce police budgets and presence.
This one step forward, two steps back approach is, frankly, not good enough. Your government’s approach to criminal justice and policing is under the microscope because police and prisons are in the spotlight.
I can see that your government is supporting progressive law reform and is pushing a progressive agenda, such as debating abortion law changes and decriminalising sex work. These steps are long overdue in South Australia and I hope that we can be the hub of progressive politics and change that we once were. However, your government needs to take this moment seriously and use it to examine why so many marginalised communities are calling for divestment from police and prisons. We are crying out for change, and we need you to listen to us.
Marginalised communities have a history of being victimised by police. In 1975, South Australia decriminalised homosexuality in response to the killing of a prominent academic and gay man, Dr. George Duncan, that was widely speculated to have been committed by police. The legacy of police violence continues today, and it is the reason why, [your particular investment, for example, as a queer woman, or leave out], I am against increased police presence, armed with semi-automatic weapons. This announcement does not make me feel safer.
I want you to rescind this move and launch a review of the South Australian police budget. The $864 million budgeted for SA Police in the 2019-20 financial year could be better spent on community services like [add or change to reflect any you personally want to see invested in, for example mental health, housing, and domestic violence support]. Funding these services would show marginalised communities that you [add or change to suit your personal investment, for example, acknowledge and support them, decrease the need for police, and financially benefit our community long-term].
[Your chosen sign off, for example: Warm regards,]
[Your name, for example: Shawna Marks]
[Your job title or how you exist in the community, for example: PhD researcher, speaker, writer, and educator, or leave out if you prefer]
Example no. 1
Example no. 2
Thanks to Kristi Urry for providing feedback on the email template, Roxy Baratosy for feedback on this article, and to Eleni Loechel for sharing her email with me.