Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley said she supports efforts to defund police departments during a TIME100 Talks discussion on Thursday, because the movement is “about the investment in our communities which have historically been divested from.”
“This is simply about a refund. This is about true reparations. This is about investment in communities,” Pressley told TIME National Correspondent Charlotte Alter. “There’s a reason why the Congressional Black Caucus submits an alternative budget every year. Because we know that our communities have been historically under resourced, underinvested in and divested [from].”
“Of course our first responders have a role to play in society, but they needn’t play a role in every part of society,” she continued. “And they don’t want to.”
For example, police officers shouldn’t be called to a school if two students are fighting, Pressley told Alter. Instead, she argues communities should invest in social workers, counselors and school nurses.
“Why are we deploying the police when there is an individual who’s battling mental illness? We should be deploying a mental health clinician,” Pressley continued. “Why are our police officers administering [opioid overdose reversal drug] Narcan, when we should be investing in on-demand treatment, substance use and culturally competent care?”
“We know what works. We just haven’t funded it,” Pressley told Alter. “And so this is the reckoning.”
Pressley also discussed several policies she’s introduced in Congress to help fight systemic racism and inequality, including her proposed resolution to condemn police brutality, racial profiling and excessive use of force, as well as legislation co-authored with Libertarian (formerly Republican) Michigan Rep. Justin Amash to eliminate the practice of qualified immunity, which she told Alter has “shielded police from accountability, even in the most egregious and vile cases of murder and police brutality.”
The Congresswoman has also introduced the Andrew Kearse Act, which would require law enforcement officials to provide medical assistance to people in custody who are experiencing medical distress. (Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.)
The legislation is named after Andrew Kearse, a 36-year-old Black man who died of a heart attack while in the back of a police car in 2017 in New York. Kearse told a police officer present that he was experiencing chest pain and repeatedly asked for help, but the officer did not call for medical assistance until after Kearse became unresponsive. The officer was never charged with a crime.
“This stuff runs so deep in terms of the dehumanization and the objectifying of Black and brown bodies,” Pressley told Alter. “And so I do think by ending qualified immunity and then passing the Andrew Kearse Act, that does get us closer to progress.”
“Not to justice, because justice would be them all being alive still,” she added. “But it does get us closer to progress.”
Correction, June 25
The original version of this story misstated Rep. Justin Amash’s political affiliation. He is a registered member of the Libertarian Party, he is not an Independent.
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