What Activists Mean When They Say Defund the Police
The killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans have led to an increase in calls to defund or even abolish police departments
In the weeks since the nation became engulfed in protests against police violence following the killing of George Floyd — and Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade and a long list of other Black Americans — a clear message has grown louder and louder: It’s time to rethink policing as we know it.
The long-simmering effort to reimagine policing in the United States has not been unified. Activists have called for everything from reforming police departments to cutting their budgets to completely abolishing them. Those who demand defunding or abolishing the police believe that reforms — such as providing training in how to deescalate confrontations or avoid implicit racial biases, along with stricter use-of-force policies — have largely failed to bring change and new solutions are needed. “Five years ago, folks were saying, ‘We need to hold these police accountable,’ or, ‘We need to charge them.’ Now it’s shifted to, ‘We actually have no trust in this system anymore,’” says Oluchi Omeoga, co-founder of the Minnesota-based nonprofit Black Visions Collective, which has called for defunding the Minneapolis Police Department. “Instead of holding them accountable and reform, we actually have to get rid of this system and talk about what we can actually do as communities to keep us safe.”
In the past few decades, funding for law enforcement and the prison system has skyrocketed: State and local governments nationwide spent about $115 billion on policing in 2017 alone, according to the Urban Institute. Law enforcement spending accounts for up to 30% to 40% of the budgets in some cities, such as Oakland and Chicago. And there’s been an increase in spending related to the militarization of police at the same time that the scope of police responsibilities has expanded to a breaking point — something officers themselves have historically complained about.