The following was originally written for and published by Revolution Now Magazine.
It has been nearly a month since the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis, but the protests and public outcry have yet to slow down. In the midst of this outcry, an idea that has long been proposed by black communities has now become mainstream: Defunding the Police. The phrase “Defund the Police” has become a favorite for protest signs and hashtags. However, there is some confusion on what the slogan really entails.
“Defund the Police” is a phrase used to demand that a large percentage of police funding be redirected into schools, mental health services, homeless services, addiction rehabilitation, and other means of positively reinforcing how communities function and serve their most vulnerable populations. By increasing public services and resources, supporters of defunding believe that crime rates will dramatically decrease, lessening the need for a large police presence. Many advocates of defunding the police also believe that the current policing system is too interwoven with systemic racism, and that it therefore must be brought down completely and replaced with a new policing system in order to truly solve the issues within today’s forces. It is important to note that there is no one way to “Defund the Police”: many individuals have proposed different forms of defunding as a solution to police brutality. In this article, RevNow examines three real-world applications of police defunding and how they are changing the policing landscape in cities across the United States.
Minneapolis Disbands Police Department: In response to the death of George Floyd and multiple claims of police brutality in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis city council vowed to defund and dismantle its police department earlier this month. "We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe," said Council President Lisa Bender. With nine of the council’s 13 members voting in favor of the resolution, a veto-proof supermajority exists. While little is known now about how Minneapolis plans to move forward with the dismantling of its police department, Bender indicated that “having no police department is certainly not in the short term,” and the city would shift to community-based safety solutions.
Portland Cuts Budget: The Portland, OR city council passed a budget that removed $15 million from its police bureau funding. This cut will remove 84 positions within the bureau. When it came time for the city council to hear public testimony on the budget, 742 citizens signed up to be heard and the meeting stretched on for hours, with nearly every citizen calling for the police bureau to be defunded. "If ever there was a time for white people to be quiet and listen...this is that time," Commissioner Amanda Fritz said. "The city budget is a moral document. It's also a document that comes from everybody in the city...wondering how they can do their jobs better and wanting to be public servants who serve our communities—all of our communities—the best we possibly can." Mayor Ted Wheeler also stated that he would put an end to the police bureau’s gun violence reduction team: a program that aimed to reduce the number of gun crimes in the city, but has been called out repeatedly for over-policing black communities without producing any tangible results. Furthermore, the Portland police would no longer take part in the city’s Transit Authority. The mayor also indicated that the officers in these sections of the department will be reassigned to other duties instead of being let go. This change is estimated to save the Portland Police Bureau $7 million. Wheeler pledged to spend that money, plus an additional $5 million, on programs to promote the general welfare of the black community in Portland, though the spending has not yet been portioned out.
San Francisco Decreases Police Presence: San Francisco mayor London Breed laid out a roadmap for her city’s police reforms, with one of the largest points being that the police department would no longer respond to noncriminal calls, like homelessness, neighbor disputes, and school disciplinary intervention. Breed also directed the department to cease use of military grade weapons like tear gas, bayonets, and tanks against unarmed citizens. This reform will also focus on improving the department’s hiring and training processes. "We know that a lack of equity in our society overall leads to a lot of the problems that police are being asked to solve," Breed said. "We are going to keep pushing for additional reforms and continue to find ways to reinvest in communities that have historically been underserved and harmed by systemic racism."
In attention to defunding the police, others have called for less all-encompassing reforms in the hopes they will decrease police brutality significantly:
“8 Can’t Wait”: The “8 Can’t Wait” is a campaign that details what some believe are the eight most urgent protocols that police departments must adopt nationwide: banning chokeholds, requiring de-escalation efforts, requiring a warning before shooting, exhausting all other means before shooting, requiring any by-standing officers to intervene in situations of brutality, comprehensive reporting requirements, banning shooting at moving vehicles, and the requirement of a use of force continuum. A mandatory reporting protocol would require police to document every time they use force or threaten to use force on a civilian, and a use of force continuum is a set of guidelines on which weapons can be used against certain types of force.
Incentivizing Reform: President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that would incentivize local police reforms through the Department of Justice. The order included incentives for the hiring of mental health, addiction, and homelessness experts as “co-responders” to “help officers manage these complex encounters.” In the text of the order, the Justice Department was directed to create a database to track when officers have been decertified, charged, convicted, or faced judgement for use of force. The president also claimed to have spoken with the families of nine victims of police or racially motivated killings, though none of those families appeared to be present when the President delivered his remarks in the Rose Garden Tuesday afternoon.