Gladwell and Noah’s conversation touched on how an issue like reforming and/or defunding the police has gained traction in recent months, and what the next step of restructuring these institutions looks like. Gladwell pointed out that police have been forced into being first responders for things they’re not really trained to deal with, like homelessness and mental illness, because funding for those services has been gutted.
“What we’re doing is we’re taking a group of people who already have an insanely difficult job and we’ve made it a lot harder,” Gladwell said. “Why? Because we’re too cheap and we’re too unfeeling and we’re too lazy to build adequate support systems for people who are very much in need in our country. I think stage two is, it’s time for people like me, and you, and all of us, to stand up and say, ‘I am willing to support greater funding for homeless services, for the mentally ill, in order to improve the quality of policing in this country’… And I feel like if people in the police departments saw that, they would be much more willing to embrace reforms.”
Noah then turned the conversation to ongoing protests over racial injustice and police brutality. He asked Gladwell about the constant tension inherent in notions of successful protesting — whether it’s only large, peaceful gatherings that are effective, or if those that turn destructive are necessary because they make society uncomfortable.
Gladwell emphasized his support for the former, citing movements led by Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, calling their protests “purposeful and disciplined.” He continued, “What I would like to see from the protests that we have now is that same discipline and purposefulness. I think we have in large parts, but there are times when it doesn’t seem to be either of those things… Those kinds of protests that were in New York, or in major cities, where tens of thousands of people would march purposefully and peacefully with one voice, demonstrating to the world that this is not some minor, niche group in society that’s not upset, this is everyone… I had a number of people who study police reform very closely say to me that that had tremendous impact in moving and getting people, like Congress, to take police reform seriously.”