Defunding the Police

three firemen standing near trees police
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What “defund the police” means and what it will accomplish.

What does “defund the police” actually mean?

While there are activists who use this phrase to mean a complete defunding of the police, most want a partial defunding. Some funding currently being funneled into police departments would be reallocated to other community programs to address social problems at their root. Resources would be diverted from the police to be reinvested in the community for resources such as education and drug rehab. By defunding the police, the responsibilities of the police would be shrunk to address programs that need to be prioritized.

“The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best-equipped to deal with those crises.”

MPD150 (a people’s project evaluating policing)

Defunding the police is an important way to reinvest in black communities.

Why should we defund the police?

First, some history: policing in America began informally in colonial America, a for-profit system that was run mostly by volunteers. As cities urbanized, this night-watch system became impractical, and in 1838, the first publicly-funded police force was created in Boston to protect businesses and the transport of goods.

The formation of police forces in the South, however, was not focused on the interests of shipping goods; instead, the interest of the police force here was the preservation of the slave trade.

[T]he slave patrols [were] tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts […] many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.

Olivia B. Waxman (TIME)

The racist origins of policing continue to affect criminal justice in America today. Policing in America has disproportionally hurt BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color). BIPOC neighborhoods have been over-policed and unprotected, and black people especially have been frequent victims of police brutality.

Black neighborhoods are over-policed, in that Black people are targeted and arrested for petty offenses, leading to higher rates of crime. On the other hand, these neighborhoods are also under-policed, “with inadequate attention to violence prevention to make them safe” (Desmond-Harris, 2015).

Black Americans are more than twice as likely to be killed by the police than white Americans, and being shot by the police is a leading cause of death for black Americans. In cases where lethal force is used, black people are more than twice as likely to be unarmed as their white counterparts.

Despite being less than 13% of America’s population, Black Americans comprise around 26% of people killed in police shootings from 2015.

American Indian and Alaskan Native women are 1.5 times more likely to be killed than white women […] black women; American Indian and Alaskan Native men; and Latino men are at 1.4 times greater risk of being killed by police force than their white peers.

Kashmira Gander (Newsweek)

These are but a few examples to expose the problems within the policing system, but one thing is clear: the policing system has failed to protect BIPOC communities.

This warrants another question: why does is policing in America – if not worsening – not improving? In the past few decades, the responsibilities of the police have been growing. Police have been stationed in schools, used as a response to drug overdose, and sent to clear out homeless camps.

Two problems arise from the expansion of the police force’s responsibilities: first, police training has not fundamentally changed in a way that addresses their new obligations, and second, the police end up criminalizing these issues rather than providing a solution to the root problems. Defunding the police solves both of these problems by shrinking police responsibilities and addressing social needs to reduce crime.

Of course, policing is only a part of a deeply flawed, racist justice system. However, defunding the police is a step towards fighting systemic racism in America.

Why not reform the police instead?

Short answer: reform doesn’t work.

Long answer: While “reforming the police” may seem like a less drastic solution to our policing problems, reform has already failed in the past. Black Lives Matter and other groups fighting for equality have helped implement reform in police training, but BIPOC are still being disproportionately targeted by the police. New training protocols have failed in practice.

Police reform has failed because the problem with policing runs deeper than a few “bad apples.” Even with policy changes and de-escalation training, systemic problems have remained unaddressed. In fact, more than 50% of police officers have reported that it is not uncommon for an officer to turn a blind eye to another officer’s inappropriate conduct.

The Minneapolis Police Department is a prime example of the failure of reform. The MPD has had a history of targeting BIPOC Americans; a primarily white police department, it did not represent the racial makeup of the city. Four years ago, Philando Castile was shot during a traffic stop by Jeronimo Yanez, an officer from the MPD. And just two months ago, George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin, who knelt on his neck for almost 8 minutes.

Floyd was killed four years after the beginning of a trust-building program between the police and people. The problem, local critics say, is that even within this program, “the Minneapolis Police Department failed to fully adopt changes recommended by federal officials to weed out bad cops” (Lartey and Weichselbaum, 2020). Officers that had complaints filed against them were sent to coaching sessions, but often these sessions were confusing and inconsistent.

Two of the officers involved with George Floyd’s case, Derek Chauvin and Tou Thou, previously had complaints filed against them that were mostly closed without discipline. Because of these continuous failures to protect BIPOC citizens, the MPD has now been disbanded, and Minneapolis is creating a new department for community safety.

Qualified immunity, a type of legal immunity that protects government officials from lawsuits, prevents police officers from facing any real consequences for their actions. When police officers do get fired, financially powerful police unions can overturn the chief’s decision.

Around the country, police unions have played a decisive role in shaping department policies and shielding bad cops from accountability, experts say.

Casey Tolan, Nelli Black, and Drew Griffin (CNN)

By defunding the police rather than attempting more meaningless reforms, we have an opportunity to create real, systemic changes and create a safer world for BIPOC Americans.

How can I support the defunding of police in my community?

  1. Contact your government officials. You can write emails or call your mayor, governor, and Congresspeople to express your support for the defunding of the police.
  2. Vote. Although the presidential election is important, your local elections are just as crucial! Find out when upcoming elections are and research candidates’ policies to make sure they support your values.
  3. Spread the word. Educate the people around you about defunding the police! Send this article to your family and friends. As this movement gains support, we have a greater chance of getting the attention of our government and changing our communities for the better.
More reading and sources:

Black, Nelli, and Drew Griffin. “How Police Unions Protect Officers Fired for Bad Behavior.” CNN, Cable News Network, 2 July 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/07/02/us/police-unions-contracts-shielding-bad-cops-invs/index.html.

Desmond-Harris, Jenée. “Are Black Communities Overpoliced or Underpoliced? Both.” Vox, Vox, 14 Apr. 2015, www.vox.com/2015/4/14/8411733/black-community-policing-crime.

Gaille, Louise. “42 Shocking Police Brutality Statistics.” Vittana.org, 10 June 2020, vittana.org/42-shocking-police-brutality-statistics.

Gander, Kashmira. “Black Men Are 2.5 Times More Likely to Be Killed by Police over Their Lifetime than White Men.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 5 Aug. 2019, www.newsweek.com/black-men-2-5-times-more-likely-killed-police-white-men-1452549.

Golding, Bruce. “What Does ‘Defund the Police’ Really Mean, and How Would It Work?” New York Post, New York Post, 9 June 2020, nypost.com/2020/06/09/defund-the-police-what-it-really-means-and-how-it-would-work/.

Kaur, Harmeet, and Nicole Chavez. “What We Know about the Four Ex-Police Officers Charged in George Floyd’s Death.” CNN, Cable News Network, 5 June 2020, www.cnn.com/2020/06/05/us/minneapolis-officers-background-george-floyd-trnd/index.html.

Levin, Sam. “’It’s Not about Bad Apples’: How US Police Reforms Have Failed to Stop Brutality and Violence.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 16 June 2020, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/16/its-not-about-bad-apples-how-us-police-reforms-have-failed-to-stop-brutality-and-violence.

McCarthy, Niall. “Police Shootings: Black Americans Disproportionately Affected [Infographic].” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 28 May 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2020/05/28/police-shootings-black-americans-disproportionately-affected-infographic/#173d0ea059f7.

Miller, Ryan W. “What Does ‘Defund the Police’ Mean and Why Some Say ‘Reform’ Is Not Enough.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 8 June 2020, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/08/what-does-defund-police-mean-george-floyd-black-lives-matter/5317240002/.

“Qualified Immunity.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, www.law.cornell.edu/wex/qualified_immunity.

Romo, Vanessa. “Minneapolis Council Moves To Defund Police, Establish ‘Holistic’ Public Safety Force.” NPR, NPR, 27 June 2020, www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/06/26/884149659/minneapolis-council-moves-to-defund-police-establish-holistic-public-safety-forc.

Waxman, Olivia B. “The History of Police in America and the First Force.” Time, Time, 6 Mar. 2019, time.com/4779112/police-history-origins/.

Weichselbaum, Simone, and Jamiles Lartey. “The Disturbing History of Minneapolis Cops Before George Floyd.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 29 May 2020, www.thedailybeast.com/the-disturbing-history-of-minneapolis-cops-before-george-floyd.

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