Politics and Economics

Wheaton College Debate: Is Defunding the Police Critical to Racial Reconciliation?

Photo submitted by Professor Gerard Huiskamp

The Diana Davis Spencer Foundation is sponsoring a Wheaton College debate series, with notable guest debaters, in conjunction with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The discussion topics and speakers for all of the debates are determined by a group of Wheaton student organizations, the College Conservatives, College Democrats, House of REPS, Roosevelt Institute, and the Wheaton Leftist Union. The debate series will feature four debates, the first two in the Fall 2020 semester, and the remaining pair in the Spring 2021 semester. The first debate was held on Sept. 30. The debate featured Paul Butler of Georgetown Law and Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal. 

The guiding question posed: “is defunding the police critical to racial reconciliation?” 

The debate on Wednesday was held in New York City with a live screening held in the Holman Room at Wheaton College. With the current campus social distancing restrictions, there were only a few students able to attend the debate live. Dominick Torres ’20 led the film crew in New York and will edit the footage from both Norton and New York locations together into a comprehensive video that will be released to the rest of the Wheaton College campus. 

Taken by Professor Gerard Huiskamp 

Jason Riley argued that policing and community relations are based on crime rates and thus police are not to blame. Further, he claimed that people have always wanted and asked for a greater police presence. Riley argued that there is no data to support police shooting and brutality. He presented data that showed a correlation between shootings, violent crime and police presence. Finally, Riley insisted that, while cutting police budgets is popular now, police are the only vanguards that stand between order and chaos. 

Paul Butler rebutted with a personal anecdote, describing exactly how volatile the relationship is between police and the communities that they are supposed to serve. A Chicago native, Butler described the torture endured by innocent men under the watch of Commander Jon Burge. Butler asserted that people have not asked for more police, but they have asked for improved social services, just like the current “defund the police” movement. On police brutality data, Butler argued that police routinely destroy evidence. Butler cited the petty police slowdowns that actually lowered crime and million-dollar blocks, a collection of 851 city blocks in Chicago where over a million dollars have been spent on sentencing residents to state prison. 

With calls to reevaluate the role of the police officer reaching recent highs after the murder of George Floyd, the relationship between police budgets and racial reconciliation is more relevant than ever. The Black Lives Matter movement has allowed “defund the police” to become a mainstream issue for people who were generally unaware of police friction. 

A final video of the debate will be produced in a few weeks and a campus-wide watch party event will be hosted to screen the debate. This event will include breakout sessions for Wheaton students to attend with the intention of sparking a wider debate. These breakout sessions will be led by campus leaders. The organizers of this event are calling upon other interested student organizations to help lead breakout discussion groups.

Seeing that every organization on campus has been asked to come up with 1-2 ways by which it will contribute to anti-racism on campus, leading a breakout session during the watch party will be an opportunity for organizations to take part in an event focused on anti-racism and will be seen by SAIL as accomplishing this goal.

Contact or the other event organizers by Oct. 16 if you and your student organization would enjoy leading a discussion during the watch party event.