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What Does ‘Defund the Police’ Mean?

The slogan “Defund The Police” has likely made countless appearances in your life these past few weeks. Protests stemming from the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others have brought about a national conversation on the need for systemic change in community policing. As is the case with nationwide (let alone global) protests, there are both staunch supporters for and critics of the movements and ideologies being pursued.

“Defund the Police” critics express serious concern over the phrase itself and amalgamate it with the abolishing of the police–proving they are unaware or ignorant of the sensitivities of this issue. Others seeking to cast doubt on the proposal speak with an unwavering ardor to the importance and integrity police departments represent in their communities–once again clearly lacking a complete understanding of what “Defund The Police” truly means.

So, What Does Defund The Police Mean?

Defund the police does not call for abolishing police departments, or degrading and defaming police officers. The slogan calls for repurposing and rebalancing local budgets to support communities with a range of offerings such as mental health counselors, diversity and inclusion coordinators, community action events, and much more. Police funding typically consumes a significant portion of community budgets, even in communities with low rates of crime. Additionally, police budgets continue to increase while public school funding and other crucial institutions suffer funding halts. The protesters and activists who are chanting “defund the police” are fighting to change this growing imbalance in communities across the nation. Mayors in cities ranging from New York to Burlington, Vermont, to Los Angeles are seeking to significantly reduce their police budgets and reallocate those funds to much-needed reforms.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said recently, “Money would be deferred to the city’s chronically under-funded public housing system and to youth programs.” He has stated, “The NYPD did a hell a good job in saying, ‘Ok, here’s a bunch of things we could do while still keeping this city safe.’ We need to redistribute revenue to communities that need it the most. We know our young people are hurting.”

The change in tune from cities across the country is a promising sign that these protests are having positive and real impacts on the mindsets of community leaders and the allocation of municipal revenue. For some, these changes feel too late, and the work is far from over in reshaping police departments, municipal spending, and systemic inequalities.

Police departments and their officers are tasked with work that should never have fallen under their duties in the first place, from intervening in familial affairs to providing mental health counseling to school children. It’s time for these responsibilities and countless others to become the purview of other departments and institutions. If these departments or institutions don’t exist in a community, then the calls for a reallocation of funds can go to developing such departments to revolutionize community life in the United States.

Where to Go From Here?

Coinciding with the mass protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, local educators are banding together and using collective bargaining to expel police from schools – which they claim exacerbates the school to prison pipeline. From Los Angeles to New York and Chicago to San Antonio, teachers unions are telling their local government that they do not support the police presence in their schools. These initiatives will help free up much-needed funds to improve public school life by employing counselors, psychologists, social workers, and others who can provide students with the resources they need and value.

Congressional Progressive Caucus members including Senator Bernie Sanders and others are working to harness the national momentum around policing reform to call for a 10 percent decrease to the massive $700+ billion military budget. Supporters of this proposal assert that these savings can be better spent in impoverished communities nationwide instead of fueling wars and encouraging other nations to stockpile weapons during a global pandemic.

These proposals by progressive members of Congress and teacher unions nationwide are in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and demands. They hope that these revitalized calls from the American public to change the direction of the funds invested in our communities will be the catalyst for large-scale reforms. Chants to defund the police are indeed calls for stronger, healthier, and more resilient communities