When saying defund the police what we really mean is reallocate police funding into more community services. The following are gaps that currently exist where intentional funding is needed in the school and legal systems here in Buffalo, NY.
First, the Buffalo Public School (BPS) administration needs to elaborate on what is currently in the Code of Conduct regarding restorative justice. Each BPS is operated with its own administration and this leads to inconsistencies and fragmented care for students. Teachers and staff are unclear on what RJ is and how to implement it in classrooms. Parents are unaware that they can ask for restorative conferencing for their students. A recommitment and more clarity on how to implement restorative justice in our schools is necessary in order to start addressing the school-to-prison pipeline issues.
Second, the city court needs to address the disparity of racial division between cases being referred for RJ. A moral and integral reevaluation of our legal and policing system is long overdue in Buffalo. The way we address harms committed in our city is veiled in racism and it is time for this to change. It is publically available data that Buffalo is one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. What will it take to change that? Funding should be used to provide training on RJ for court judges and public defenders. Also, increased financial resources to properly administer a complete conferencing referral system between the city courts and RJ agencies would benefit the community and the courts. By engaging in restorative justice, the chances of recidivism decreases.
Lastly, given the racially discriminate history of Buffalo, the city government should consider how staffing within schools and criminal-legal positions i.e., Board of Education staff, police officers, judges have played a role in the social development of WNY. When someone's institutional tenure no longer represents the greater good of our city, it is time to open the position up to others in the community. This point is more so a reflection than a funding suggestion.
The answers to our collective future do not lay in the hands of our government alone. This is evidenced by the many diverse social service and community support organizations that exist in Buffalo. There are many intelligent individuals doing meaningful work driven by passion to achieve social, economic, political, racial, and environmental justice. WNY has the opportunity to be policy and community change leaders because there are people here interested in just that. To make current community organizing efforts more long-lasting, people need to be given the opportunity to take positions of leadership in our city government and schooling systems. This can be accomplished if we develop the capacity to deeply listen to and trust one another.
The goal in drafting these declarations reflect not only my beliefs but the overall messages and wisdom I am learning from the change-makers around me. These are points to dive into when visualizing possible futures for Buffalo, NY.
Cover Art & post by: Melissa Peña
2020-2021 MSW Intern