To Defund The Police Is To Rebuild Communities That Care - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Dawn Morais Webster

Dawn Morais Webster has had a corporate career and now works with nonprofits on issues vital to community well-being. She is also an adjunct instructor in the Honors Program at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She blogs at

Columnist Froma Harrop scolds that we should “stop abusing the language.” She calls “defund the police” a “stupid declaration.”

Columnist Marc Thiessen says, “This is insanity.” Comedian Bill Maher agrees.

As the brown mother of two adult children whose safety I worry about every day; as the grandmother of a 1-year-old who will someday also be viewed through the lens of color by police, I don’t hear “a stupid declaration” or “insanity” in “defund the police.” I hear pain boiling over.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be a Black parent. People like me are not burdened by the multi-generational trauma of African Americans or native peoples. But we share, to some degree, their fear of police encounters.

One of my children works for a major corporation. The other teaches at a college. They are full of light and love. They have dreams. But none of that matters if a trigger-happy cop mistakes them for Black.

HPD Chief Susan Ballard opposes defunding her department. But defunding the police is fundamentally about restoring justice. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

I fear tragedy stalking them as it has too many Black people engaged in the simplest of activities: sitting on a park bench, bird-watching, jogging, cycling, shopping, or stopping to nap in their car. I fear that being thrust into an interaction with police could result in a deadly game of Russian roulette.

Because, as Eddie Glaude Jr. explains in “Democracy in Black,” there is a “value gap” in how Black people are viewed in America. A gap that has fatal consequences.

That gap has existed from the beginning of the republic. Glaude reminds us that John Adams told King George that “we will not be your negroes.”

Braving A Pandemic To Protest

More than 400 years later, the brazen lynching of black people by white police officers reflects a continuing sense that Black people are, in Glaude’s word, “disposable.” So disposable, that police officers who kill Black people — even ones clearly not resisting arrest, can almost always count on going scot-free. Because Black lives have never mattered as much as white lives.

Five years ago, in “Between the World and Me,” Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about how “the phrase ‘police reform’ has come into vogue.” Yet here we are in 2020, with thousands braving a pandemic to protest the lynching of George Floyd.

Recoiling from that murder, the world remembered also Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Tamir RiceBreonna Taylor. And only too soon added 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Georgia.

No wonder then that Coates tries to warn his adolescent son:

“You would be a man one day, and I could not save you from the unbridgeable distance between you and your future peers and colleagues, who might try to convince you that everything I know, all the things I’m sharing with you here are an illusion, or a fact of a distant past that need not be discussed. And I could not save you from the police, from their flashlights, their hands, their nightsticks, their guns.”

The impatience with a slogan that has risen organically from the depths of unspeakable pain is the impatience of those who have never felt that pain. Those asking to “defund the police” are nailing their demands on the doors of white America and insisting on an end to a tradition of policing rooted in slavery.

Coates writes: “The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that follow from these policies — the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of Black people, the torture of Black suspects — are the product of democratic will. The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs, but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.”


Then consider that, in 2002, as a Tory MP, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said about Britain’s involvement in Africa and the slave trade: “The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”

He has not disavowed the statements made in that article. The resurgence of white supremacy is real.

But empires do end. Institutions do run their course. New ones can rise from the ashes. Mariame Kaba, the founder and director of Project Nia, which promotes transformative justice practices in place of the over-policing of youth, looks back on decades of commissions tackling police reform, and asks: “Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? … The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.”

Kaba is clear: “We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.”

She wants the billions that now go to the police to be redirected “toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.”

The resurgence of white supremacy is real.

There is something ghastly and colonial about lamenting “defund the police” because the language is being abused. Our outrage is better directed at the abuse Black Americans have been subjected to by the system. They have had their labor looted, and their lives stolen routinely by the state for generations. Now they want the state-sanctioned abuse by police to stop.

So, let’s stop parsing the slogans and get down to the hard work of building communities that truly take care of their own. Reimagining democracy, as Glaude suggests, must include a commitment to reimagining public safety to end the terror in which Black Americans have had to live for too long.

That reimagining must take place in Hawaii as well, despite the reported aversion to the words “defund the police” on the part of the mayor, the police chief and the two most recent nominees to the Police Commission.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Read this next:

Want Food Security? Get Serious About Local Ag

Local reporting when you need it most

Support timely, accurate, independent journalism.

Honolulu Civil Beat is a nonprofit organization, and your donation helps us produce local reporting that serves all of Hawaii.


About the Author

Dawn Morais Webster

Dawn Morais Webster has had a corporate career and now works with nonprofits on issues vital to community well-being. She is also an adjunct instructor in the Honors Program at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She blogs at

Latest Comments (0)

(1) Can you send social workers to a domestic disturbance without a police officer? So the things that need to be addressed would often require a police officer as well to maintain safety. (2) If you do defund police, would this not increase gun purchases for personal protection and then fatalities from stand your ground situations? (3) Maybe "equifund" or "matchfund" would be a better argument. I would expect defund to lose every practical argument, or the majority of business owners, but equifund might bring more people to  get behind more mental health and so on. (4) The only example where this worked (Ireland)- they defunded, removed, and then reconstructed (refunded) a new police that was 50% catholic. I don't think this allowed money to go elsewhere as is the strategy here.

tws808 · 3 years ago

"billions that now go to the police to be redirected "toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place." If one wants to redirect the resources to social services suffering from austerity, as citizens looking for change, we may want to consider redirecting the bloated budget of the Pentagon.Looking at the US endless wars through the lens of race, we find that the violence perpetrated by the US has been repeatedly against non-whites.There's really a lot of money for senseless wars that could be put to better use.

Joseppi · 3 years ago

A citizen that engages a law enforcement officer in a physical fight is a major threat to our community.  I suspect many have never experienced hand to hand combat where death is a real imminent outcome.  The nation needs more police officers.  And there needs to more law enforcement applied to clearing roads and highways of criminals that have no respect for the proper time, place, and manner of their protests.  Laws need to be stricter and a heck of a lot more people need to be arrested in response to the lawlessness in our country.  The lawlessness damages the neighborhoods and ruins the quality of life for our most vulnerable people.  Where are the interviews of all the black parents that lose their children to wanton inner city violence?  Yes, it is terrible to be afraid of the cops.  But more terrible is the fear of being attacked by thugs when no more police are present.

FadedShamrock · 3 years ago

Join the conversation


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email to submit an idea.


You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.