Nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd have renewed the movement against police brutality and the larger system of white supremacy in the United States. The assertion of this movement is simple: Black Lives Matter. But recently a demand has captured widespread attention as well: Defund the Police. Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic characterizes the demand as meaning the end of “mass incarceration, cash bail, fines-and-fees policing, the war on drugs, and police militarization, as well as getting cops out of schools.” However, defunding is just one half of the equation:
It would also mean funding housing-first programs, creating subsidized jobs for the formerly incarcerated, and expanding initiatives to have mental-health professionals and social workers respond to emergency calls.
More broadly, the demand to divest from policing doubles as a call to invest in safety, security, and racial justice.
The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) has a section of their website on defunding the police. Under the heading “Values & Vision,” M4BL writes, in part:
For much of U.S. history, law enforcement meant implementing laws that were explicitly designed to subjugate Black people and enforce white supremacy. That’s why Black people, along with hundreds of thousands of others, are calling for city, state, and federal governments to abolish policing as we currently understand it…
We know the safest communities in America are places that don’t center the police. What we’re looking for already exists, and we already know it works. We need look no further than neighborhoods where the wealthy, well-connected, and well-off live, or anywhere there is easy access to living wages, healthcare, quality public education and freedom from police terror.
M4BL also emphasizes: “When we talk about defunding the police, we’re talking about making a major pivot in national priorities.”
Under the heading “Tough Q&A”, M4BL poses the question, “If we defund/disband the police, who’s going to keep people safe?”, answering:
Defunding the police doesn’t mean an immediate elimination of all law enforcement, nor does it mean immediately zeroing out police-department budgets. We know that peacekeeping is an essential service. But a transition from over-reliance on excessive, brutal, and discriminatory policing to right-sized, reorganized, and demilitarized safety strategies is the right way to go. We can innovate new approaches to security and accountability that better serve the needs of the people without creating massive gaps in service. We learn from global partners non-militarized ways of preserving safety and enforcing laws.
In response to popular pressure, there is already movement from politicians toward defunding and disbanding police departments.
According to The New York Times, the organization Black Lives Matter Brooklyn “has called for at least $1 billion to be cut from the” NYPD budget; on June 7, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would cut NYPD funding, although he did not specify how much. On June 12, the New York City Council proposed a $1 billion funding cut (CBS News).
And in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, the city council on June 12 “unanimously passed a resolution to pursue a community-led public safety system to replace the police department…” according to Reuters. In the resolution, five city council members wrote, “‘The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, by Minneapolis police officers is a tragedy that shows that no amount of reforms will prevent lethal violence and abuse by some members of the Police Department against members of our community, especially Black people and people of color.'”
The demand to defund the police is not likely to meet the same response across the country as it has in Minneapolis—at least, not in the short term. But the Minneapolis city council resolution combined with movement toward police defunding in New York City proves that the demand can find political traction.