What Defund the Police Means
The tragic events of the last few weeks have reinvigorated calls to defund the police. We’re demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake and all the lives destroyed by police violence with more than just reforms — we support defunding the police. In this moment of national reckoning over police violence and systemic racism, we want to make sure your questions are answered about why we’ve taken this stance in solidarity with Black lives. As active allies, we’ve treated the last few months as an opportunity to educate ourselves more on this topic, and we’re happy to share what we’ve learned so far:
1. First and foremost, we have to put this conversation in context to understand how we got to where we are today. The history of policing in this country began as a way to preserve the slavery in the South, with patrols drawing from vigilante groups to surveil, capture, and terrorize the enslaved Black population. This kind of targeting continued even after emancipation, rearing its ugly head with the formation of the Ku Klux Klan and the enactment of Jim Crow laws. And, in more recent history, politicians of all backgrounds have enabled the policies that have led to the militarization of police. This history is reflected in what we are witnessing today, as police officers and vigilantes (like Kyle Rittenhouse) inflict violence on Black lives on a daily basis. We all want to feel safe, but in Black and brown communities, police and law enforcement often represent harm and terror — not safety.
2. So, what do we mean when we say “defund the police”? The movement to defund the police is about reallocating the hundreds of millions (sometimes billions) of dollars currently being spent on police to directly serve and reinvest in our communities. This opens up funding that will transform entire communities as we know them. When people have their basic needs met, they’re less likely to end up in the kind of dangerous situations police officers are called upon to ‘handle.’ As just one example, according to a study from the Treatment Advocacy Center, a person with an untreated mental health issue is 16 times more likely to be killed by police than other members of the community.
Instead of funding police to handle situations that don’t require law enforcement, here’s what that funding could be used for instead:
- Crisis intervention specialists
- Social workers
- Behavioral and mental health experts
- Food assistance and clean water
- Housing assistance
- School budgets
You might be thinking, “How will a mental health expert stay safe during a potentially dangerous situation? Won’t we need the police instead?” To that, we point to the fact that even though policing has become more heavily militarized, more weapons don’t ensure officers are safe. Furthermore, the force is unevenly brought to bear across communities, with police disproportionately targeting communities of color. If police officers enter a community with this kind of militarized mindset instead of the goal of defusing crises, they are less capable of prioritizing safety and de-escalation.
3. Why say “defund” instead of [insert option here]? We hear you. During such a contentious time in our history, it might seem like we should be prioritizing strategic language at every turn. The thing is, allyship is about listening to the people who are most profoundly affected and taking their position seriously. Defunding the police comes from Black and brown grassroots organizations, like Movement for Black Lives’s (M4BL), who are rightfully at the forefront of this fight for justice. The #DefundHate Coalition, spearheaded by immigration rights organizations at United We Dream and Detention Watch Network, relates their own mission to cutting funding for ICE and CBP to defunding the police in solidarity with Black lives. As a white-led organization, it is not Indivisible’s place to make suggestions about how Black and brown activists are expressing their demands. We want to participate in the conversation, but it’s not our place to reframe it to be more palatable to the masses to people of color’s lived experiences.
More than taking the lead from Black-led organizations, we’ve found that the word “defund” is actually a perfect way to describe their intentions. Conservative Republicans have been comfortable using the word “defund” when it comes to Planned Parenthood for years. We’re using the word in the same way. We want to defund the police — in other words, take funds from a certain program to free up that money for another purpose. We need to step back from this broken model of “protection,” and reinvest in a shared vision of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery that does not rely on the police.
If you want more information, here are a few resources we recommend:
- Movement for Black Lives’s (M4BL) Invest-Divest platform
- Read the asks laid out by M4BL with the BREATHE Act before it’s formally introduced in Congress
- A blog post from Seattle Indivisible, one of our local groups, on why defunding is important, which addresses a lot of frequently asked questions
- A video you can watch and share about Defunding the Police
- Indivisible’s Resource on Taking Action in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter
We won’t stop saying Black Lives Matter, and we’ll back it up with a commitment to anti-racist initiatives that we believe will bring us closer to a more perfect union. We hope this has provided useful context and resources for you to read and share.