As protests run into their third week, a sizable chunk of activists and demonstrators have called for “defunding” or even “abolishing” police departments. The movement has since gained traction, and many cities are listening to their calls. Funding for the Los Angeles Police Department has already been cut for next year, when the city originally planned to increase officers’ annual budget from $1.189 billion to $1.86 billion, says Forbes. Furthermore, the call for abolition of police has quickly come to fruition in Minneapolis, with the Minneapolis City Council promising to replace its police department with a different form of public safety putting the community first.
Protesters argue that merely reforming the police has done little to help the BIPOC in past years, according to The New York Times, as minorities continuously face violence at the hands of law enforcement. Racial bias training and passing laws to limit violence and increase accountability can only do so much when the system of policing is so racist, violent and complicit from the inside out. For this reason, people are now calling for more drastic action.
The concept of defunding the police is simple, and it can be better described as a redistribution of funds. Demonstrators want to take money away from police officers and instead put it toward supporting low-income neighborhoods, accesibilizing education for all and strengthening social work and healthcare. Such causes, activists argue, deserve these funds and will help to untangle the roots of crime. With providing affordable housing, youth programs and social and mental health services, the basic needs of a community are met, which demonstrators strongly believe will do more to reduce crime.
Hostility toward BIPOC in U.S. law enforcement systems is a consequence of placing excessive responsibilities on police departments and on the criminalization of myriad offenses holding deeper roots. Rather than relying entirely on the police to suppress crime or respond to emergencies, healthcare and social service workers would have a larger role. Abolishing the police means building a system where such workers and community members have greater responsibilities.
Protesters believe there are many cases in which armed police officers are not merely needed to substantiate peace. Moving a homeless person, tending to a drug overdose incident or helping a person suffering sexual assault or domestic violence are examples of how a social or healthcare worker can better use their skills. The presence of police in these situations tends to only increase tension and worsen the anxiety of victims, even more so when they are BIPOC.
Such instances of reform have occurred in foreign countries and also within America. When Portugal decriminalized all drugs, the issue was then seen for what it was — a healthcare issue, to quote The Atlantic. Removing armed officers from the picture gave healthcare workers a chance to step in and give victims of overdose the chance to heal.
In Eugene, Oregon, there’s a team called Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets (CAHOOTS) through which social workers and police force work in tandem to respond to emergency calls. Trained medics and crisis workers together answer substance abuse, mental health, housing distress, suicide prevention and other demands. Similar reforms exist across the country.
Activists are calling for a nationwide shift in how we view public safety and law enforcement with their vehement attitudes toward defunding and abolishing the police. These changes would ensure populations are not relying entirely on one overpaid system to solve all their problems; protesters instead want to see better balanced and equipped social services able to invest in lower-class neighborhoods. These new systems would hopefully decrease disparities between BIPOC and all communities; however, the U.S. has a long road ahead toward fully healing and fixing these institutional injustices.
words_geethika kataru illustration_olivia ginsberg