NHIOP Students Find a Common Ground on Defunding the Police

By Janelle Fassi ‘21 | September 13, 2020 | September 14, 2020

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After a summer filled with racial tension and political hostility, student leaders from the New Hampshire Institute of Politics are finding a common ground on hot button issues.

Senior Samantha Riley and Junior Emily Burns, who lead the Kevin B. Harrington Ambassador Program’s Community Events Committee, introduced the series in collaboration with the Meelia Center for Community Engagement.

The first debate to kick off the “Finding a Common Ground” series was defunding the police. The event took place in the Event Space in the Jean Student Center last Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 7 pm. Senior Jenifer Wallitsch, who serves as Chair of the Kevin B. Harrington Ambassador Program, moderated the event. Despite students having opposing opinions on the subject, the event came to a civil conclusion

One junior ambassador was on the pro side of defunding the police. He brought up examples of police brutality targeting black Americans this summer, which sparked nationwide protests. He added police officers exhibited poor de-escalation techniques during the Black Lives Matter protests, where 93% of which have been peaceful. In Buffalo, NY, where a police officer was recorded shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground, he says this case “didn’t seem to be police officers attempting to come to a peaceful resolution, but instead a show of force.” The student added, “that was a show of force missing when compared to the protests that took place across the country with regards to COVID policies.”

In big cities such as Chicago, Detroit, or New York, where police departments are larger with bigger budgets, the ambassadors says funds “should be reallocated to other social services that can work with the police to better protect and serve our communities.” He gives the example of mental health experts, social workers, and drug addiction counselors.

Although he is for defunding the police, he agrees that officers deserve the proper training in difficult situations. He says, “I personally believe that officers should be constantly trained and retrained on how to deescalate a situation because there may be new techniques on how to do it more effectively.”

One sophomore ambassador was on the con side of defunding the police.

He says, “It’s a difficult topic. I don’t think it’s the right path for everywhere in the country nor do I think it’s a correct path for most of the cities in the country. However, I do believe there is some merit to the argument.”

Being from a small town, the ambassador has only had positive relationships with police officers.

“The majority of Americans in small towns and cities only have good interactions with their local police officers. In many cases, they don’t even have police stations because they’re not a necessary item in their communities. It has to be a community by community-based approach.”

The student on the pro side of defunding the police has had similar interactions with police officers.

However, he says, “it is easy for someone like myself who has only had a couple of encounters with the police that were overall positive to dismiss and overlook what is going on right now.” He added, “it is essential for everyone to recognize that while you may have had a positive encounter with the police, that is not the case for everyone.” He used the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain as examples.

Despite their disagreements on the issue, both ambassadors believed the discussion was civilized. The student on the con side believed the conversation “was going to be a lot more polarized and aggressive than it was” and was happy with the amount of respect participants showed toward each other. The student on the pro side was hesitant before coming because he expected it to “evolve into a shouting match.” However, he was pleasantly surprised with how the conversation went. He added, “one thing that I really respected and enjoyed was that even if people had varying opinions on this topic, they were able to find common ground and provide solutions to the problems we discussed.”

The ambassadors on both sides gave a few ways our government can eventually find a common ground on defunding the police.

The student on the con side feels the movement could be clearer in finding a common goal.

“There is a significant portion of the ‘Defund the Police’ movement that means the abolishment of police stations as it did in Minneapolis. I feel like we need to decide if that is the true focus of the movement or is it more a reallocation of funds as a lot of people said in the discussion. Until that distinction is made, I felt like both parties will continue to polarize the issue and prevent the slightest bit of progress.”

The student on the pro side believes our government needs to understand police are people with faults of their own. He says, “police officers are not perfect, and those that abuse the power and authority of their office should be held accountable for their transgressions against the community they swore to protect.”

However, he understands the issue is not a quick fix, but the conversation was a good starting point.

“While problems like systemic racism and excessive use of force will not be solved in one conversation, one election or even by one generation, having conversations like these sets the foundation for which solutions can be built upon.”

When asked about future topics for debate, the student on the con side offered the role of media bias in politics and the national debt, both of which were brought up in the discussion. The student on the pro side offered whether we should implement a Medicare-for-All type plan and the government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

For more topics, stay tuned for the next Common Ground discussion. If you are interested in attending, email Sam Riley (sriley@anselm.edu) and Emily Burns (eburns278@anselm.edu) for more details.