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Defunding the police: What does it mean in 2020?

Have you heard the phrase "defund the police" a lot recently? Do you support reallocating budgets from the police to community strategies?

In this new episode of  “How Did We Get Here?”  (my weekly show on our Daily Kos YouTube channel) I break down what it actually means to defund the police. 

The transcript can be found below. 

As protests against police brutality continue across the nation, one phrase has gained a lot of traction: defund the police.

So besides being a viral hashtag what does Defund the Police actually mean?

I’m Cara Zelaya from Daily Kos and this is “How Did We Get Here?”

So this idea isn’t new; calls for defunding the police have been around forever but gained national attention after Ferguson where it was seen as a radical idea. Now after the murder of George Floyd, it’s been a term that we’ve seen pretty much everywhere.

So let’s talk Minneapolis. Tamar Sarai Davis wrote a piece for Prism titled “Want to avoid another #GeorgeFloyd? Start by defunding the Minneapolis police, organizers say.”

Davis reports “Disproportionate spending on police has long been a feature of Minneapolis’ city budgets. In 2017, the city spent $408 per capita on police. Meanwhile, for every dollar spent on police, only 42 cents were spent on infrastructure, 4 cents on workforce development programs, and 1 cent on youth violence prevention.

“That investment, as evidenced by findings in a Center for Popular Democracy report, has been a costly one. Between 2011 and 2014, Minneapolis has paid out $9.3 million in police misconduct lawsuits.”

So defunding the police considers what role the police actually play in daily life and where we could structurally shift budget dollars from the police to other responders.

Instead of the police responding to someone in a mental health crisis, the idea is to reallocate that money so that a better funded social worker or mental health professional would be on call.

Another example is addiction; if drug use is endangering someone, a health care worker who is trained to properly respond to the situation and, ideally, provide long-term treatment plans and support instead of punishment would be better equipped to help. Punishing away an illness doesn’t work.

But let’s zoom out for a second: It’s been a conversation for a long time that the United States chooses to prioritize the military budget over education, health care, infrastructure, pretty much everything.

If you really think about it this is just another extension of America’s obsession with military style intervention. You can just google militarization of the police and see dozens of images like this.

It brings up a great point on the American police: why are you wearing riot gear? And tanks? And weapons of war? The United States is not an active war zone. No matter how much Fox News wants it to be.

And yeah let's talk about the most violent communities. High crime areas are not going to stop being violent by putting people into a prison industrial complex that has consistently failed at reforming prisoners.

Communities need opportunity, they need well-funded public schools, they need health care, they need clean water, public transportation, higher minimum wage, hell, they need polling locations--the list goes on and on and on and on. On that list is not militarized police.

And I can hear some of you asking me “but Cara, crime rates in the U.S. have fallen by about half since the early ‘90s. Could that be because of the inflated police budgets?” And actually evidence from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that legalized abortion following the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 accounts for the largest chunk in decline in crime rates over the past three decades. But y’all aren’t ready for that conversation. That is a different topic.

Look, I’m not saying abolish the police right now, although if you want an episode on the police abolition moment and the theories behind it I will make it because I think it's interesting.

But what I am saying is we are over relying on police officers to do too much and simultaneously overfunding them with too many things that they don’t need. Both can be true.

Defunding the police also doesn’t mean law enforcement would receive literally no money, but instead that large chunks of the budget would shift to programs that would take on responsibilities currently held by the police.

Not all Democrats are on board with the idea or the slogan. Aside from disagreeing with the sentiment, many on the left are concerned that language like “defund the police” will push voters away.

But what we’re seeing is that continued activism around this idea is working. City after city after city is reforming their police departments. And that’s great. And if you think protesting doesn't do anything you’re objectively wrong.

And wherever you like on the spectrum of reforming police to defunding the police to abolishing the police I think we can all agree that it’s awesome that it seems like we’re making positive steps in the right direction. Is it enough? Nope. Not even close. Is this reform coming too late for too many people? Absolutely. But we gotta keep fighting.

If you’re gonna keep fighting, like I am, be sure to hit that like button and share this video with anyone else you’d like to inform on the subject.

So where do you stand on this?

Do you support reallocating budgets from police to community strategies?

Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to chat with ya. Have a good one.

A lot of the content of this video came from Marissa Higgins’ piece “What does defund the police actually mean? Here's what protesters and activists are talking about” which I encourage you to read to further educate yourself and others on the subject. 

While we continue to find new ways to reform our criminal justice system, it’s important to pay attention to the communities that are most being affected, and what organizers who live in those communities propose as solutions.  As I mentioned, Tamar Sarai Davis for Prism wrote a great article titled “Want to avoid another #GeorgeFloyd? Start by defunding the Minneapolis police, organizers say” that should be read in full. 

Since 46-year-old George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, people across the nation have been reminded of how the outsized power of police not only threatens communal well-being, but also can take individual lives. Now, as communities both in Minneapolis and nationwide erupt in outrage, Minneapolis-based organizers are calling on the public to join them in demanding that the city defund the police.

On Friday, the Black Visions Collective (BLVC), a Minneapolis-based grassroots organization, released a petition demanding that the Minneapolis City Council defund the police. The petition includes demands to never again vote to increase police funding, to cut $45 million from the Minneapolis Police Department budget, to protect and expand current investment in community health, and to cease police violence on current Minnesota community members as they protest in the wake of Floyd’s murder. These demands are quickly gaining traction, but they serve as extensions of work being done by Minnesota organizers long before this week.

So, where do you stand on this? Has your outlook changed in the past few weeks? 

I am always interested in keeping this conversation going with you all in the comments. 

I hope you’re enjoying this new video series. I’m still in the early stages of developing this series and am open to any notes y’all might have. I’m always open to recommendations for episode ideas, as well.

If you missed last week's episode I took on the phrase “law and order.”

See ya in the comments!



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