Tens of thousands of Americans are marching on the streets with “Defund the Police” banners. Hundreds have declared their own country in a six-block radius in Seattle, called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) or Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), based around an abandoned police building. As calls come to reduce or stop government funding of police departments, politicians are slashing police budgets. Will this trend spread across the entire U.S., or will it be limited to just a few areas?
What is Defund the Police?
Soon after the tragic death of George Floyd, peaceful protests and violent riots popped up across the country. Protesters worldwide have told governments to reduce the amount of funding granted to the police. Some went as far as calling for the police to be completely abolished. Here is one of CHAZ’s chief demands:
“The Seattle Police Department and attached court system are beyond reform. We do not request reform, we demand abolition. We demand that the Seattle Council and the Mayor defund and abolish the Seattle Police Department and the attached Criminal Justice Apparatus. This means 100% of funding, including existing pensions for Seattle Police. At an equal level of priority we also demand that the city disallow the operations of ICE in the city of Seattle.”
Mariame Kamba, a community organizer, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.” She opined that the U.S. cannot reform the police, so the only solution “is to reduce contact between the public and the police.”
Reactions and Actions
Many left-wing politicians and activists have disputed that this phrase means to reduce law enforcement’s budget or get rid of police from society. From Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) to Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH), some have said it’s about allocating more dollars for social services, reform, and reimagining how to achieve public safety.
President Donald Trump opposes cutting police budgets, but he signed an executive order that reforms police procedures. The most significant aspect of the E.O. will be to better track police misconduct. Former Vice President Joe Biden has also come out against defunding the police, calling for increased funding for cops.
The reaction at state and local levels have mostly been about cutting funding for police departments. New York City is considering $1 billion in cuts to the NYPD’s budget. The Toronto City Council is set to debate a 10% reduction in police resources. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed a $150 million decrease to the LAPD’s purse.
Opponents argue that this will make cities, especially black communities, less safe. Others have suggested that funds could be better used, perhaps going to better training or mental health care for officers.
A Real Conversation
Like everything else in today’s political debates, both sides are attempting to summarize a divisive subject into 280 characters. It may make for excellent television sound bytes, but it may not tackle the heart of the problem. In this case, the issues are police brutality and reforms. For those who want to see real change in policing coast to coast, making a blunt statement of “defund the police” might do more harm than good for their cause.