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June 8, 2020

What is Defund the Police?

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Activists are calling for police departments across the US to be defunded, which often means taking money from the police budget and pouring it into the community. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was booed after he said he did not support abolishing the police.

The defunding of the police is new, however, and protests have taken place across the country, with activists and community members calling for “Black lives matter” and many calling for the police to be defended. Demonstrators painted the words “defund police” on a black – living – mural that was already in place and protested the death of Michael Brown, the black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Many, especially white people, are taught to equate policing with public safety, and they cannot think of any alternative to the punitive law enforcement model. Criminal law is there to reinforce the deep structural racism in our society.

This idea is not new to racial justice activists, and organizers, including those in Minneapolis, have been calling for some time for the police to be defended. Now it has been picked up by demonstrators across the country who say that efforts to reform police departments have been unsuccessful and that it is time to curtail the role of the police in our society.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that he was jettisoning plans for a massive increase in the police budget as support for cutting police department funding grew among activists after George Floyd’s death. As protests continue across the country, activists are calling for police to be defended and resources diverted, arguing that police reform is not enough. Police budgets account for a disproportionate share of total spending, while other departments are facing drastic cuts due to the coronavirus.

At a City Council hearing in late May, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, pushed for drastic cuts to the proposed New York Police Department budget. In New York, more than 40 city council candidates have called for a $1.5 million increase in the city’s police budget to fund police training and new police officers, as well as hiring new officers.

George Floyd, who died after repeatedly shouting “I can’t breathe” – the same last words that Carr’s son implored in his final moments – to breathe. Floyd’s death on camera has shaken New York City, the country’s second-largest city, and has become a symbol that reform efforts over the past 50 years have largely failed to stop racist police violence and killings. Now, a movement that escapes law enforcement and invests dollars in communities most affected by police violence is gaining momentum.

In addition to the massive crowds that have gathered in Washington, protesters in cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco are calling for racial justice and putting pressure on local officials to defend police departments for the second weekend of demonstrations since Floyd’s death. The flames ignited by the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis are burning in New York City as protests against police brutality and racial injustice continue in the US.
Thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters marched through the streets of New York City, stretching the length of a 1.7-mile landmark and eventually moving into lanes to bring traffic to a standstill. The protest has since spread throughout the city, with thousands rallying in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and other government buildings to demand an end to police brutality.

In San Francisco, several Bay Area unions joined forces to hold a “Take a knee for change” march outside the city’s City Hall on Sunday, organizers said. The march dedicated to George Floyd, who was recently killed by New York police officer Michael Brown, was a direct response to the NFL’s “racial justice protest” that began at that time – 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Seattle Times reported that protesters in Seattle gathered in several areas of the city, including in front of Seattle City Hall and the Seattle Police Department headquarters in downtown Seattle.

Demonstrators demanding justice for George Floyd called for funds to be shifted from the police to other social services in the city. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she does not intend to dismantle or fund the city’s police departments, despite calls from protesters. At the same time, he is calling for a boycott of Chicago police and other law enforcement agencies.

While the vast majority of this week’s protests remained peaceful, the vast majority of officers followed the instructions of their training officers and superiors.

Meanwhile, striking images of militarized police responding to peaceful protests have led politicians to question whether the police really need that much money and firepower. Floyd’s death and the Minneapolis shooting, advocates say, are just the latest in a long line of racist police shootings and killings that have not been stopped. Riot police point guns at demonstrators marching through the streets of New York City during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests.

After George Floyd’s death, advocates say it’s time to disempower the police department and put the money back into education, health care, housing and other social services. Ocasio-Cortez repeated the idea that New York City should spend less on police, but invest that money in resources that would help black communities thrive.

She explained her stance in a statement, saying, “I do not support efforts to defund the police,” according to the New York Daily News.

As protests continue across the country, activists are calling for police to be defunded and funds to be diverted, arguing that police reform is not enough. On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that he was jettisoning plans for a massive increase in the police budget as support for cutting police department funding grew among activists after George Floyd’s death. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called on New Yorkers to slash at least $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget.

In New York, more than 40 city council candidates have called for a $1 billion increase in the city’s police budget to fund police training, training new officers, and other reforms. In Minneapolis, the demand has taken on a new urgency: the dissolution of the police department and a fresh start with a nonprofit approach.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced that $150 million could be cut from the police budget and diverted to investments in communities of color. Matter, an organization that is part of the People’s Budget LA coalition that is trying to defund the police, notes that the city’s budget proposal increases funding for police forces at a time when other departments are seeing their budgets cut. In New York City, calls are growing for a $1.5 billion cut in police salaries and benefits, as well as police salaries.

In line with the discussion of police brutality and racism, there are frequent calls in the media from activists to defund the police, followed by calls for boycotts, divestment or other forms of action against police violence. Definancing the police, they say, means withdrawing resources from police departments and then reallocating those resources to social services and other community resources where they are needed. These actions are encouraged in marginalised communities, where police brutality is more common.

According to data from the Urban Institute, states and local governments spent $115 billion on police in 2015, up from $80 billion in 2010, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The coronavirus pandemic has squeezed their budgets, with drastically reduced tax revenues and increased spending on health and education.

With the phrase “defunding the police,” most activists do not want to reduce funding for police departments to zero dollars, which is impractical. Instead, the movement’s supporters hope to “diminish the responsibility we demand of the police and redirect that money to other social programs.
Activists are urging US cities and states to cut law enforcement budgets by spending money on police and prisons, while funding for vital social services is shrinking or disappearing altogether. The movement to defund the police has received significant support in recent years, including from elected leaders, since protests over the assassination of George Floyd swept the nation.

Administration officials have long dismissed the idea as a left-wing fantasy, but lawmakers seem to be listening. This week, calls to defund the police have become an outcry at protests across America, and it appears to have unleashed a new wave of anti-police activism in cities and states across the country. Activists, who have long fought against cuts to law enforcement budgets, say they see their ideas as the first time elected officials have proposed budget cuts and divestments from the police.

Here’s what we know about the movement and how cities and states are responding, as well as a look at the current state of the law enforcement budget.

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