The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police officers have sparked national protests demanding that cities defund their police departments and implement new models for public safety.
Police violence against people of color is not something that is new, the U.S. has a long history of violently targeting and killing black Americans and other racial minorities at disproportionate rates. In fact, the police was first established to enforce slavery and maintain white supremacy. Today, men and women of color are more likely to be killed by the police as a result of use of force.
Several studies show that current police reforms such as body cameras, bias training and de-escalation training have been ineffective for combating police brutality.
These deaths prove that black Americans are continuing to experience structural violence and racism from the police despite these reforms and has prompted unprecedented demand for systemic change.
What does it mean to "defund the police?"
The majority of city budgets allocate more money to the police than to any other municipal department. For example, the NYPD budget is nearly $six billion, which exceeds the amount of money allocated to other services. In 2017, the United States spent a total of $114.7 billion on policing.
Those who are advocating to "defund the police" want to cut these large police budgets and reallocate those funds to support services that promote public safety and improve communities like education, social services, healthcare and housing.
So far, 16 cities – including Minneapolis, the city of Floyd's murder – are discussing plans to reduce their police resources, this includes measures to defund police departments.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his proposal to cut between $100 million and $150 million from the Los Angeles police department to invest in bettering marginalized communities.
Similarly, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to defund NYPD's budget but has not yet specified how much the cut will be.
Why should cities consider defunding their police departments?
Activists argue that defunding the police departments could actually make communities safer.
The increased spending on law enforcement has unequally harmed communities of color by causing them to become over policed, which has led to increasing rates of mass criminalization and incarceration of people of color and incidents of police violence.
"A 'safe' world is not one in which the police keep black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence and death," Mariame Kaba argues in an op-ed for the New York Times.
Money divested from police departments would go towards alternative models for emergency response that minimize police intervention in emergencies involving mental illness, homelessness or substance abuse. Instead, healthcare workers, social workers or community volunteers who are highly trained and experienced would be dispatched to handle these situations.
The police are frequently called for these types of non-violent situations but are inadequately trained to handle them and increase the chance of these situations becoming violent and unsafe. One-third of victims killed by police are individuals with disabilities. Those who struggle with mental illness or homelessness are more likely to be arrested.
These alternative models for public safety would make communities safer because they will allow for these type of crises to be handled in a safe and humane manner without the use of violent tactics, which are commonly used against marginalized groups of people.
On June 7, Minneapolis unanimously voted to replace its police department with a new public safety system that is community based, the plan will be discussed in further detail next month.
Will crime rates increase if police forces are defunded?
Some people believe that defunding police departments will increase crime rates. However, a Washington Post study found no correlation between spending on law enforcement and crime rates. Factors, such as access to healthcare, increased housing and more employment opportunities have been shown to reduce crime rates.
Is there a difference between defunding the police and abolishing it?
Defunding the police is not the only systemic change being fought for by activists, some are demanding for the abolition of the police and prison system. The abolition framework acknowledges the role of the police in perpetuating structure violence and inequality and advocates for it to be completely dismantled and replaced with an alternative system that is not rooted in the systemic oppression of people of color.
Abolition activists want to work toward the long-term goal of reaching a just society without the police and prison system.
Although defunding and abolishing appear to be different concepts, defunding can actually be regarded as a step towards abolition.
Whether protesters and activists are taking to the streets to demand that the police be defunded or abolished, they ultimately want one thing: To eradicate a system that is deeply rooted in racism, violence and inequality.