“Watching the Police” is a new GEN column about the movement to rethink policing in America. Malaika Jabali will examine how plans to defund, abolish, or otherwise reform the police are playing out in cities and police departments across the country.
Shortly after midnight on December 10, the Minneapolis City Council voted to shift about $8 million in police funding to expand social services. It was, as far as the Minneapolis Police Department goes, a relatively innocuous monetary tweak: The overall police budget is still a staggering $179 million, and Minneapolis still ranks near the top of all major U.S. cities in per-capita police spending.
Yet for activists in the city, there was no downplaying what happened. “I think it’s a wonderful step in the right direction,” said Anwulika Okafor, member of Reclaim the Block, a local grassroots group focused on divesting from the police department. Sure, the city council’s actions fell well short of the “People’s Budget” that Reclaim the Block and its sister organization, Black Visions Collective, released in early December (never mind the city council’s empty vow over the summer to disband the police force entirely). But in a city as badly in need of transformative policies as Minneapolis, this was a welcome sign of progress. And progressive activists aren’t naive — they know that even a minor victory requires a seismic push, and careful and steady language to help push the conversation to the left.
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“Is this what we are aiming for as an end stop? Absolutely not,” Okafor said. “But if you had told us at the beginning of 2020 that the city would vote to take some money out of police forces and put them into departments that have expertise, I would not have told you it would happen.” That it did happen is testament…