Defunding the Police: What does it mean?

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Defunding the Police: What does it mean?

The unfortunate murder of George Floyd has sparked nationwide protest that is not new. Many of the cries of “No Justice, No Peace” come from the same place as when it was chanted other times such as the 1960s. One phrase aspect of the moment, defunding the police, has gained a lot of steam as well. As those with negative intentions attempt to twist the meaning and purpose of said call to defend law enforcement, there is a space needed to explain what exactly defunding the police means. There will still be those that feign a misunderstanding, but the push to defund the police lies in the desire to improve the communities that frequently face over-policing.

At a high-level, defunding the police is a call to divest budget dollars that are normally allocated to law enforcement into other agencies and organizations that can serve the betterment of the community. For example, those dollars usually provided to policing would go into areas to battle and serve domestic violence, homelessness, food shortages, education, and other areas where communities of color are frequently lacking.

What type of funding do police stations receive? To find that out, let us look at some of the largest police budgets in the United States:

  • New Orleans, Louisiana
    • Budget for fiscal 2020: $194 million (17.1% of 2020 budget)
  • Baltimore, Maryland
    • Budget for fiscal 2020: $536 million (18.3% of 2020 budget)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
    • Budget for fiscal 2020: $656 million (44.9% of the 2020 budget)
  • Miami, Florida
    • Budget for fiscal 2020: 266 million (23.4% of 2020 budget)
  • Memphis, Tennessee
    • Budget for fiscal 2020: $273 million (38.3% of 2020 budget)

What these numbers show is that a large portion of the city budgets created for major metro areas are directed to policing. At the same time, many of these communities are facing divestment in other areas which has come through generations such as white flight, redlining, “school choice” and much more. The disenfranchisement of communities of color is met with more policing as not only a way to control the people in that area, but further provide revenue for the criminal justice and prison industries which generate money for the states where these communities are found. This is a systemic issue at heart that needs systematic change such as defunding the police.

Now, those looking to change the narrative immediately throw the idea out there that this means a person will call the police and no one will show up. That is not what defund the police means at this level. Instead, it means that professionals trained to handle the matter will respond with support from law enforcement as needed. Issues dealing with mental health, homelessness, domestic violence, and others should be faced by professionals trained in those spaces, and frequently police are the first called to respond which does not always deescalate the situation.

Plus, defunding the police is a direct call to stop the militarization of law enforcement. Many police departments are arming themselves with surplus tools purchased from the military. The same force that is supposedly fighting for our freedoms in other countries supplies materials for police departments to “police” those same communities back in the United States. That is yet another cycle that needs to be ended.

Defunding the police is not a difficult concept to understand. President Donald Trump is currently attempting to defund the United States Postal Service, which is such a stalwart of American freedom that it is named in the US Constitution. On the other hand, law enforcement in the United States is historically tied to the slave trade and since then it is definition of policing communities means very different things depending on what community you are in. It is time for that to change.  

Examples of police reform in US cities: 

Camden, New Jersey

Vallejo, California