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Political rhetoric is meaningless in the wake of the police murder of Tyre Nichols, especially when the same politicians vote for increased funding for the police

February 2, 2023

It has been almost a month since Tyre Nichols was brutally beaten by five Memphis cops. Over the past week and a half, since autopsy reports were released and the five cops were arrested (Jan.6), there have been a nationwide outcry against yet another Black person dying at the hands of police in the US.

Mapping Police Violence documented 1,192 civilian deaths at the hands of US police in 2022, which is the highest number since the project began documenting this type of death. The organization also has documented that Black people are 3 times more likely to die at the hands of the police than any other group of people, plus since 2013, in 98.1% of the police killing of civilians, there has been no accountability. 

Protests have happened all over the US over the past week, but nothing like what happened after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis cop. The police murder of Tyre Nichols has elicited more conversation around defunding and abolishing police departments, with the analysis that what happened to Tyre Nichols was not an aberration, but an expected outcome based on how policing is conducted in the US.

However, the more dominant news stories involve politicians who sometimes make noble speeches, which are generally filled with empty rhetoric. Take for example recent comments by members of the Michigan Black Caucus, as reported on MLive on February 1st, with the headline, Tyre Nichols’ death demands renewed scrutiny of policing in Michigan, Black lawmakers say.

The Michigan Black Caucus members that spoke at a press conference recently were Sen. Erika Geiss, House Speaker Joe Tate of Detroit, Sen. Sarah Anthony of Lansing, Rep. Donavan McKinney of Detroit, Rep. Stephanie Young of Detroit, and Rep. Amos O’Neal of Saginaw. Many of them used the kind of language we have become accustomed to when cops kill Black people, with words like accountability and training. More importantly, what we have seen time and time again is that politicians, even if they demonstrate righteous anger of the police murder of Black people, it doesn’t result in increased consequences for police departments. In fact, what often happens is an increase in funding for police departments, like what we have seen in Michigan, where under the leadership of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, there has been a $1 Billion investment in policing. Gov. Whitmer said in her 2023 State of the State speech:

Since I’ve been governor, we’ve invested $1 billion in public safety. Let’s continue funding law enforcement with better training, oversight, and access to mental health resources. Police officers, state troopers, and prosecutors have tough, dangerous jobs, and if we work together, we get them what they need to keep our communities safe. 

The 2023 Michigan Budget includes the following for policing. After each funding allocation, GRIID provides some commentary to counter these policing funding justifications. 

  • $9.2 million to support a Trooper Recruit School (general fund) anticipated to graduate 50 new troopers in addition to the 120 troopers that are anticipated to be hired and trained using existing attrition savings. This investment allows the department to increase enlisted strength to nearly 2,200 while continuing to increase the diversity of uniformed personnel. GRIID Comments: More funding to recruit more cops does not translate into safer communities. Over and over again, the public is mislead into believing this major fallacy of more police, safer communities. See the report, Cops Don’t Stop Violence.
  • $3.7 million to improve Data Collection during Traffic Stops (general fund) through the development of new tracking and documentation systems including a benchmarking dashboard and increasing data collected during traffic stops to allow for easier review and analysis of traffic stops made by the State Police. These improvements will build upon the recommendations of the recent Michigan State University Traffic Stop Study. GRIID Comments: Last year, the Michigan State Police had conducted a traffic stop study, which concluded there was racial disparity by their department. Despite this, the public will provide more money to tell us what we already know about policing, traffic stops and racial profiling. 
  • $3 million to expand Training and Professional Development (general fund) to provide training on cultural competency, implicit bias, and decision-making to expand positive interactions between department members, minority groups, and the diverse communities that the department serves. GRIID Comments: There are numerous studies demonstrating that racial sensitivity and cultural competency training for police departments are ineffective. As Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing states, “Diversity and multicultural training is not a new idea, nor is it terribly effective. Most officers have already been through some form of diversity training and tend to describe it as politically motived, feel-good programming divorced from the realities of street policing. Researchers have found no impact on problems like racial disparities in traffic stops or marijuana arrests; both implicit and explicit bias remain, even after targeted and intensive training. This is not necessarily because officers remain committed to their racial biases, though this can be true, 19 but because institutional pressures remain intact.”
  • $1.8 million to establish a Victim Services Program (general fund) that will support 14 full-time Victim Advocates across the state. These positions will serve to support victims’ needs early in their interactions with the criminal justice system while also building partnerships with community organizations in support of victim advocacy. GRIID Comments: There should be funding for victims of crime, but it should not go to the Michigan State Police. Funding for crime victims should go through the Department of Social Services. 
  • $1.1 million to increase the department’s capacity to Prevent, Detect, and Investigate Cybercrimes (general fund). This investment will support statewide investigatory assistance and digital forensic examinations to further the department’s position as a leader in areas of cyber security, computer crimes, and digital evidence. GRIID Comments: Cyber crimes prevention, detection and investigation should also not be done by the Michigan State Police. Such categories are nothing more than justifications for police departments to receive more funding.
  • $1 million for Trooper Recruitment (general fund) to broaden the racial, ethnic, and gender makeup of the department to make it more representative of the communities it serves. This investment will support digital marketing campaigns, recruiting events, and improved public relations to assist the department in achieving its recruiting goals for enlisted positions. GRIID Comments: Recruiting and hiring more cops based on gender, race and ethnicity will NOT address the deep seated lack of trust between the police and the public. Do you think it matters that having a Black cop arrest you, beat you or shoot you is any better than a white cop doing the same?

The rhetoric from politicians like the Michigan Black Caucus also rings hollow since they have supported Gov. Whitmer’s $1 Billion in funding for policing. On top of that, at least three of the members of the Michigan Black Caucus have received campaign contributions from police unions, as has been documented by the group, No More Cop Money.

  • House Speaker Joe Tate – $1500 from police unions
  • Sen. Sarah Anthony – $1250 from police unions
  • Sen. Erika Geiss – $1000 from police unions
  • Gov. Whitmer & Attorney General Gilchrist – $3000 from police unions

All of the rhetoric in the world about police accountability means nothing if politicians continue to provide massive amounts of funding to police departments and continue to take money from cop unions. Not only is their rhetoric hollow, it is insulting to the public, and especially to the Black families that have had relatives murdered by cops. We need a massive movement and a mass uprising if policing in this country is going to be held accountable, defunded and eventually abolished.

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