May 23, 2024

Should defunding the police be a bioethics priority?

Bioethicists can help reset the way budgets are made

Protests in Portland / Tito Texidor III on Unsplash

In the wake of riots after the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis City Council has decided to “defund” its police department. Although what this means is far from clear, it is clearly a popular response to the problem of police brutality against African-Americans.

Not all African-Americans back the idea, of course. Economist Glenn Loury, for instance, says, “We need the cops. Cultivating a sensibility in our people of distrust and contempt for the cops is self-destructive. It’s wrongheaded.”

However, writing in the blog of the American Journal of Bioethics, Nicole Martinez-Martin argues that defunding American police departments should be an issue for the bioethics community.

Prioritizing police over public investment in children, education, transportation and health services raises issues of health equity and distributing justice. Reviewing city budgets drives home that choices are being made to direct money away from a social safety net for communities in favor of policing. Even public services like parks and recreation, which may not seem to serve immediate public health goals, do have an impact on the health of Black communities, considering the role of green spaces (which are often lacking in communities of color in U.S. cities) and children’s after-school and summer programs in reducing stress levels, and improving education skills and overall mental health. Overzealous policing practices in Black communities contributes also contribute directly and indirectly to health disparities.

She concludes that “Bioethicists can contribute to the public discourse regarding defunding efforts – explaining the critical need to reallocate funding away from the police and towards providing social workers, mental health counselors, nurses (and so on) to serve and protect the health of Black communities.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge   

Creative commons
black lives matter
defunding police