Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Policing Is Just the Start of Reforming Criminal Justice

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Image credit: Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

Don’t underestimate the power of protest to move the needle,” says Heather Ann Thompson.

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As protests across the country continue, calls to defund the police continue to be amplified. Many Americans are now pushing for the reallocation of dollars to public services in cities throughout the country.

Defund the police is not as radical as it sounds. It’s about taking dollars spent on police and reallocating them on other things.” — Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan

But while significantly restructuring the police is a big first step, law enforcement is just one facet of a larger criminal justice system in dire need of real change.

Listen: How to change a failing criminal justice system. 


Heather Ann ThompsonJake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Heather Ann Thompson

Heather Ann Thompson is a history professor at University of Michigan and author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Blood in the Water” about the Attica prison uprising. The current movement’s focus on policing is justified says Thompson. She adds that law enforcement is the front end of an expansive and discriminatory criminal justice system.

It’s the first time I’ve seen in our conversation around criminal justice that we’re seeing the whole picture,” says Thompson.

The current system is in need of a re-imaging, according to Thompson, one that accounts for deep-rooted societal inequalities.

Defund the police is not as radical as it sounds. It’s about taking dollars spent on police and reallocating them on other things that every study shows are more effective,” says Thompson.

She adds that social mobilization and activism will be key in moving the issue forward.

It really does change policy because it puts departments on notice and it puts the mayor’s office on notice that this will not be tolerated anymore,” says Thompson on the impact of protest. 

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