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What Does Defunding the Police Mean?

Police officers’ legal capacity to utilize violence as a tool sets them apart from other functions of government. Any other citizen who uses violence in the same manner as a police officer would be arrested. And use violence they do: last year, police killed 1,098 Americans, and shackled many more, arresting an estimated 10-12 million people. Despite comprising only 13% of the country’s population, Black people were 24% of those killed by police. The killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police this past Friday was the 48th police shooting since January that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating. Police harassment and abuse is a nationwide problem that has led to an unacceptable number of men, women, and children in our jails and prisons.  

Communities across the country are demanding that their police departments be defunded, or even disbanded. What do those calls mean in practice? Put simply: divest from systems that don’t work. Invest in those that do. Reallocate money from police budgets to other resources.  

Despite dominating the budgets for most towns and cities, policing in America does not create safety. Police do not necessarily prevent crime; they respond to it. And only sometimes. Fewer than half of “violent” and property offenses are solved. In the words of organizer Mariame Kaba:

“A ‘safe’ world is not one in which the police keep black and other marginalized people in check through threats of arrest, incarceration, violence and death.”

Calls to defund the police seek to move power and money out of police departments and back into the community, where the focus can be on healing and working to transform the circumstances that led to harm occurring in the first place.  History has shown us that allocating more resources to police departments in an attempt to reform them is ineffective at best. 

It is incumbent on all of us to work towards building the world we want and need. There is nothing radical about acknowledging that a system isn’t working, and diverting its resources into programs that help people and their communities thrive. “We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs,” Mariama Kaba writes in the New York Times.If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.”  

Divest from systems that do not work. Invest in those that do.  

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