July 30, 2020


Defund the Police, or Reform Them? AF-Detroit Discusses

By: Brandon Brice

On Tuesday, July 21, the AF-Detroit hosted its latest event, which proved to be engaging and thought provoking. Speakers James Craig, Detroit’s chief of police, and Amanda Burgess Proctor, professor of criminal justice reform, gave listeners a crash course in police reform and criminal justice reform. The topics covered included: defunding the police, police unions, police reform, restorative justice and criminal justice reform alternatives. Attendees ranged from business leaders to non-profit leaders, and everything Michigan in between. The diversity made for a surprisingly lively discussion.

Chief James Craig, who has years of experience leading police agencies in Cincinatti and Portland, ME, began by talking about his life as a young Black officer in Detroit, dealing with racial discrimination on the police force as a young cadet, then being laid-off after the recession in the 70’s, and eventually working to become police chief in 3 different cities. He connected the term of ‘defunding the police’ with officers being laid off, streets being less safe in Detroit’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, and the impact that budget cuts have on public safety. Craig was quick to defend police, saying, “Our Officers are heroes, simply because they put their lives on the line daily.” 

Amanda Burgess Proctor, whose professorial style matched her more progressive position, challenged the meaning of criminal justice reform, ”and observ[ed] the gaps, misinterpretations and biased data around those being policed.” In her comments, she talked about restorative justice and the use of alternative methods of enforcing the laws, without the use of excessive force and jail sentences. Though she did not concede that police reform wasn’t necessary, she remained firm in her assertion that the criminal justice system has significant social biases that must be addressed in a free society.

Both speakers were dynamic, very honest in their comments and straight to the point. Throughout the presentations, the Q&A section continued with personal debates until the end of the talk.