Police Accountability & Oversight

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka on Defunding the Police

Whenever defunding the police comes up, people do not fail to mention Ras Baraka, mayor of Newark. His time in the office has shown that defunding the police is not a bad idea on its own and could work for the good of the citizens in the area concerned.

Ras Baraka grew in Newark and watched the riots and protests against the police for the longest time. His father was a part of the 1967 riots that saw him get jailed and beaten for standing up for black people’s rights. Baraka himself has also been beaten and jailed severally when he went to protests or to secure the release of his father or brother alongside his mother. When he came into the police force in 2014, he had a plan to ensure that the police force would be different and there would be a night and day difference in the way people were being treated.

The Journey to a Diverse Police Force

Newark is a 50% black community. Initially, it had 95% white police officers when Baraka’s father was protesting. One of the things Baraka has done since getting into office is ensuring that the police force has more diversity than the lily white ranks it had in his father’s day. Through his efforts, the police force is currently 21% white, 34% black, and 44% Latino, which makes it look far more like the community and not a segregated police force.

Even with these changes, blacks are more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. This is an area where Baraka says they still have a long way to go when it comes to matters of equality.

During a 2019 Black Lives Matter march, Baraka let the people walk in a peaceful protest. This was different than what was happening around the country. It shows just how much the city has improved in terms of racial tolerance and undertaking. It is one of the leading cities in the country in the area of police reform.

Results of the Reforms

The only way one can say the reforms worked is the results seen after the reforms. These results can be clearly seen in Newark. Baraka says that the rate of homicides has declined since he came into power. There is a better relationship between the police and the community, although some in the community still have issues when it comes to interacting with the force, a healing process that will take time as trust is built between the two.

Defunding Does Not Mean the Funds Go Back to the Government

One of the issues people have when they hear defunding the police is they think the money will go back into government pockets. As Baraka explains, this is not the case.

“I think it’s necessary to begin to divert funding from police organizations to another kind of opportunity in a community: social services, other kind of things like that.”

In defunding the police, what Baraka means is cutting down on the funding to the force to ensure that other areas and aspects of the community are taken care of. If the results are anything to go by, defunding the police is actually a good thing as those funds are used to address other key social and community services the police are ill-equipped to handle themselves. 

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