It has been a rallying cry since the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. It got louder after two police officers in Buffalo, New York, were caught on video shoving a 75-year-old protester to the ground. Those officers were charged with second-degree assault.
With protesters taking to the streets to voice their concerns about incidents of police brutality, a call to “defund the police” has become louder. Protesters in Washington, D.C., on Saturday spray-painted “Defund The Police” in giant yellow letters across an intersection, The Washington Post reported.
What does defunding the police mean?
Instead of funding a police department, that money would be diverted toward investing in a city’s social services, CNN reported.
“We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department,” Jeremiah Ellison, a member of the City Council, wrote on Twitter after Floyd died when a Minneapolis police officer put his knee against the man’s neck for nearly nine minutes. “And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together. We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response.”
True to his word, Ellison, at a rally in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon, joined eight other council members in announcing their intent to end the Minneapolis Police Department through budgetary means, KSTP reported. The commissioners said they would divert funds intended for the police department toward a community-based public model, the television station reported.
“We have a paradigm for safety that is rooted in community and justice. We have seen it the last two weeks, Council member Phillippe Cunningham told the crowd. "The reality is that people have been doing this work for decades and not being paid. We have poured that money into the police department and where has it gotten us?”
The idea of defunding was originally broached after protests against police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. The calls are becoming louder now.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would trim as much as $150 million from a planned budget increase for the city’s police department, the Los Angeles Times reported. New York City Council members Corey Johnson and Daniel Dromm promised to cut the NYPD’s $6 million budget, The New York Times reported.
“The culture in the New York City Police Department has not changed,” Dromm told the newspaper. “The white shirts, the commanding officers, they kind of get it and talk the talk, but the average beat cop doesn’t believe in it and we’ve seen this over and over again.”
While some officials want to simply reallocate funds earmarked for police departments, others want to strip all funding and dissolve departments completely.
“They don’t think the police can be fixed, so they’re trying to figure out how to reduce the burden of policing,” Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College who also wrote “The End of Policing,” told Reuters.
President Donald Trump opposes defunding and took to Twitter on Sunday morning to criticize the idea.
“I want great and well-paid law enforcement,” Trump tweeted. “I want law and order.”
Philip McHarris, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Yale University and lead research and policy associate at the Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability, told CNN that defunding police “ends the culture of punishment” in the criminal justice system.
However, some officials worry that less policing could lead to a rise in crime.
“There will be a backlash as you see crime go up,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who is the president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, told Reuters.
On Friday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters that "What I’ve heard from people in neighborhoods is that they want more police protection, not less.”
U.S. Representative Val Demings, the former chief of police in Orlando, Florida, who has been mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate to Democrat Joe Biden, echoed a similar note.
“We don’t have to just maintain law and order and pay no attention to the man on the ground,” Demings said. “We can do both.”
The funding of police departments is generally a local matter, but protesters are calling for more sensitivity and reform.
“Enough is enough,” Ji’Mie Lane, who marched in a protest along Central Park in Manhattan with her 6-year-old son over the weekend, told The New York Times. “We want as fair rights as everyone. I’m a mom, and the way George Floyd cried, it just broke my heart.”
Police forces overworked by protests could become demoralized if funds are slashed.
“That’s not the answer,” Gwen Gunter, a retired lieutenant of the Minneapolis Police Department and a member of a black police officers’ association, told The New York Times. “There’s a part of me that hopes they do succeed because I want to see how long it takes before they say, ‘Oh, no we do need a Police Department.’”
“It’s very easy as an activist to call for the abolishment of the police,” Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher told the newspaper. “It is a heavier decision when you realize that it’s your constituents that are going to be the victims of crime you can’t respond to if you dismantle that without an alternative."