By Barney Blakeney
As protests calling for justice and police reform in the wake of the May 25 police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota continue, a peripheral evolution is occurring since protesters began calling for defunding of police agencies. Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson this week offered some thoughts on the subject.
Without hesitation, Kimpson said he doesn’t support defunding police. It’s not a conversation being held in the halls of power, not even among Black elected officials, he said. Just as quickly he offered that the call for defunding police more likely is a misquote referencing realistic goals such as police reform and reallocation of funding.
Since being elected to serve Senate Dist. 42 in 2013, Kimpson has advocated for greater funding to resources such as mental health services. According to one source, 40 percent of adults with serious mental illnesses will come into contact with the criminal justice system during their lives. Each year, 2 million of them are booked into jails. Most are charged with minor misdemeanor crimes and low-level felonies directly tied to their psychiatric illnesses. Jails and prisons currently hold more people with serious mental illnesses — 365,000 individuals — than hospitals.
“I think we can have a discussion about police reform and reallocation of funding, but we must be careful of the terminology,” he cautioned. “I think we all agree that when we need the police we expect them to respond. But we want properly trained, non-biased people to respond.”
In the aftermath of local incidents as well as those that have occurred elsewhere in the country, police tactics such as ‘stop and frisk’ and policies that allow broad interpretations that give police untethered discretion in response to perceived threats are being questioned, Kimpson said.
“A lot needs to be addressed, but we need to be careful of the terminology,” he reiterated.