Calls to defund the police have become a rallying cry for protesters calling out police brutality and racial disparities in policing. But there are plenty of questions about what that means.
Some activists are pushing for police funding to be redirected to Black communities for services like education, healthcare and housing. Others want to completely abolish local police forces.
“When we talk about defunding the police, what we’re saying is invest in the resources that our communities need. Increase funding for housing. We need increased funding for education. We need increased funding for quality of life of communities who are over-policed and over-surveilled,” said Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Demands to defund police departments grew increasingly loud among activists in the months after the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, though the idea seemed too radical to government officials at the time.
Now, it’s gaining some traction nationwide — with the recent deaths of George Floyd, David McAtee and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police and days of protests demanding change.
In Minneapolis, officials recently announced they intend to “dismantle” the city’s police force.
“I just stood with a total of nine members of Minneapolis City Council, and we committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with a new model of public safety that actually keeps our communities safe,” said Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender.
The city council members who’ve signed on to the idea represent a veto-proof majority, but the city’s mayor is not on the same page.
During a recent demonstration, a sea of protesters yelling “shame” drove Mayor Jacob Frey out after he would not commit to defunding the city’s police department.
“Yes or no: Will you commit to defunding Minneapolis Police Department?” one activist asked Frey at the protest.
“I do not support the full abolition of the police,” Frey answered to boos.
The mayor is not alone. The head of the Congressional Black Caucus said she also opposes disbanding police departments but wants to instead move funds toward community programs.
“I think that part of the movement around defunding is really about how we spend resources in our country. And I think far more resources need to be spent in communities to address a number of problems,” said Rep. Karen Bass in an interview with CNN. “Now, I don’t believe that you should disband police departments, but I do think that in cities, in states, we need to look at how we are spending the resources and invest more in our communities.”
Other Democrats support the concept. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he will shift some money from the NYPD toward youth and social programs.
“We will be moving funding from the NYPD to youth initiatives and social services,” de Blasio said at a recent press conference.
The presence of law enforcement was significantly reduced in cities across the country in recent weeks — and the protests have been largely peaceful. Some activists say that underscores their belief that more cops does not equal less crime.
The movement has caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who tweeted that he opposes slashing police budgets. Some of his top law enforcement officials have also criticized the idea.
“It’s an absurd assertion and I don’t understand it,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News.
“I think there’s racism in the United States still, but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” Attorney General William Barr told CBS News. “I understand the distrust, however, of the African American community, given the history in this country.”
Written by Shira Tarlo for Newsy.