The movement to defund the police is gaining unprecedented support right now for good reason. Protests have erupted across the country because police have gotten away with committing violence against Black people for decades. Last week, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday would have been today, but on March 13 police killed her in her sleep.
Police officers have also engaged in rampant brutality during the nationwide protests against racist violence. Louisville, KY, restaurant owner David McAtee, 53, died on Monday when police shot into a crowd of protestors. Sarah Grossman, 22, reportedly died after being sprayed with tear gas in Columbus, OH. Police in Buffalo, NY, slammed 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the ground. Dounya Zayer ended up in the hospital as a result of a seizure and concussion after New York police officer Vincent D’Andraia threw her to the ground. Photographer Linda Tirado was permanently blinded in one eye with a rubber bullet. There are countless stories of police attacking, harassing, and arresting journalists and bystanders simply for documenting the protests or being out after newly imposed citywide curfews.
It’s a misconception that “defunding” means stripping the police of all their funding. While some organizations are calling for abolishing the police completely, most of the defunding efforts ask for cities and states to restructure their budgets and reinvest in healthcare, employment, education, and housing. It’s also important to remember that defunding is different from reforming, which advocates say has largely been ineffective.
“The demand of defunding law enforcement becomes a central demand in how we actually get real accountability and justice, because it means we are reducing the ability of law enforcement to have resources that harm our communities,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors told WBUR. “It’s not possible for the entity of law enforcement to be a compassionate, caring governmental agency in Black communities. That’s not the training, that’s not the institution. We have spent the last seven years asking for training, asking for body cameras. The body cameras have done nothing more than show us what’s happened over and over again. The training has done nothing but show us that law enforcement and the culture of law enforcement is incapable of changing.”
In some places, the calls to reallocate budgets have worked. In Minneapolis, activist groups Reclaim the Block and the Black Visions Collective successfully lobbied the city council to shift $1.1 million from police to violence-prevention efforts last year. In L.A., the city recently shifted $150 million away from police.
If you are interested in joining the movement to defund the police, below are action steps and resources.
The number-one thing you can do is research how much of your city’s budget goes toward police, and lobby your lawmakers to reallocate that spending toward healthcare, education, and housing. There are local efforts underway in several major cities. If you're able to, attend your local city council meetings to be part of the conversation on the budget. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has created a toolkit with resources and information for how to get involved.
Reclaim the Block is a Minneapolis organization that organizes the community and city council members to move dollars away from the police and toward “community-led safety initiatives.” You can sign its petition to defund the police, donate to the organization, download educational resources, or check out the digital toolkit.
You can learn more about the history of police violence in Minneapolis and donate to MPD150, an effort toward a police-free Minneapolis.
Communities United for Police Reform in New York City works to end discriminatory policing and seeks a $1 billion budget cut to the NYPD through its #NYCBudgetJustice campaign.
No New Jails NYC attempts to keep the city from constructing new jails, diverting funds toward housing, mental health, ending homelessness, and other initiatives.