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Courtesy Erin Morin


Defund the Police Explained

Black Lives Matter
Defund the Police Explainer

“Defund the police” means reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality. 

Source: Rashawn Ray from the Brookings Institute

Key aspects

  • Data show that 9 out of 10 calls for service are for nonviolent encounters.

  • Shifting funding to social services that can improve things such as mental health, addiction, and homelessness is a better use of taxpayer money. 

  • Reducing officer workload would increase the likelihood of solving violent crimes

  • Modern police forces have directed oppression and violence at Black people to enforce Jim Crow, wage the War on Drugs, and crack down on protests

  • Police reform, many are actually asking for this oppressive system to be dismantled and to invest in institutions, resources, and services that help communities grow and thrive

Why the phrase Defund?

  • We use the term that is defined by activists who are at the forefront of racial justice and who are leading the movement for Black Lives Matter

  • The slogan provokes discussion and that is the intention: When people search for “What does defund the police mean?” they retrieve hundreds of articles and videos, which explain the racial, economic, and political issues behind the phrase. Its very ambiguity opens a door to nuanced discussions, which can be rare in politics. 

Source: CS Monitor

The movement, explained

  • The Guardian: The basic principle is that government budgets and “public safety” spending should prioritize housing, employment, community health, education and other vital programs, instead of police officers. Covid-19 economic crisis has led cities and states to make drastic budget cuts to education, youth programs, arts and culture, parks, libraries, housing services and more. But police budgets have grown or gone largely untouched 

  • The Atlantic: the United States has an extreme budget commitment to prisons, guns, warplanes, armored vehicles, detention facilities, courts, jails, drones, and patrols—to law and order, meted out discriminately. The U.S. spends 18.7 percent of its annual output on social programs, compared with 31.2 percent by France and 25.1 percent by Germany. It spends just 0.6 percent of its GDP on benefits for families with children, one-sixth of what Sweden spends and one-third the rich-country average.

  • MarketWatch: trained mental-health and medical professionals, not armed police, should be the ones deployed to respond to people experiencing behavioral-health distress — a view that some people with law-enforcement backgrounds appear to share. 
Adults with severe mental illness account for one in four people killed in police encounters, according to a 2015 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit based in Arlington, VA.

Movement for Black Lives Demands

  • We demand an end to the wars against Black people. We demand reparations & targeted long-term investments to build a world where #BlackLivesMatter

  • We demand a defunding of systems & institutions that criminalize & cage us. We demand economic justice & self-determination
Source: BLM Toolkit

The BREATHE Act offers a radical reimagining of public safety, community care, and how we spend money as a society. The BREATHE Act brings 4 simple ideas to the table

  • Divest federal resources from incarceration and policing.

  • Invest in new, non-punitive, non-carceral approaches to community safety that lead states to shrink their criminal-legal systems and center the protection of Black lives—including Black mothers, Black trans people, and Black women.

  • Allocate new money to build healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities.

  • Hold political leaders to their promises and enhance the self-determination of all Black communities. Full text: Breathe ACT

Source: Breathe Act created by the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep Ayanna Pressley and Rep Rashida Tlaib. Full text: Breathe ACT

This graphic explains the movement: Source: Mud Company


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Examples of Defunding: Proposals and missteps

Background to policing in America

Police Abolition: Distinct from Defund

  • Wikipedia: background info

  • Vox media

  • Roundtable on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and BLM activists differentiating the spectrum of reforms, 


Finally, John Oliver: "Defunding the police... it's about moving away from a narrow conception of public safety that relies on policing and punishment and investing in a community's actual safety net — things like stable housing, mental health services, and community organization. This clearly isn't about individual officers, it's about a structure built on systemic racism, that this country created intentionally and now needs to dismantle intentionally and replace with one that takes into account the needs of the people it actually serves and this is going to take sustained pressure and attention over a long period of time from all of us."

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