The Case For Defunding The Police
Kate Sheardown explains why police reform is not the way to go and why funds should instead, be directed to transformatice justice initiatives
Every year, billions of dollars get pumped into police forces across the United States and the world. And every year, black teenagers get shot by the police. Peaceful protestors get harassed with tear gas and rubber bullets for doing nothing. Innocent lives are lost on a near-daily basis because of police brutality - over 1,000 last year and the number is climbing.
Police reform isn’t the answer to police brutality. Reform has been implemented before, for example in Minneapolis, to no avail. In 2015, the Minneapolis police department was under a lot of pressure from the budding Black Lives Matter movement to reform against police brutality. And they did—they implemented training on de-escalating, implicit bias, mindfulness, and crisis intervention, and they began to use body cameras and improved systems for finding ‘problem’ officers. The department even wrote a report in 2018 titled ‘Focusing on Procedural Justice Internally and Externally’ on how much improvement had taken place.
Why, then, was George Floyd killed by an officer who’d had over a dozen complaints against him—including the fatal shooting of an indigenous man—none of which had been looked into?
Because reform doesn’t work.
If you’re thinking that any alternatives to reform sound extreme, think again. “Defunding” in the context of #blm means that instead of trying to reform police departments, the government funds they receive are decreased. Police departments can be defunded, without policing as a whole being eradicated, even if that may be the final goal.
In 2017, the USA spent 115 billion dollars on the police . This is triple the police budget of 1977. This money was raised entirely by taxpayers, and it could have been spent in a myriad of better ways, including social programs that would decrease crime. Crime happens in low-income areas because of social inequality. Citizens resort to gangs and drugs when they see no other way out of their isolated and poverty-stricken lives. So for police officers to say and believe that black people commit more crimes because of their race is false: they commit more crimes because of hundreds of years of colonialism and systemic racism. They commit more crimes because of the inequality and racism shown to them by the powerful, the same people whom the police exist to serve.
In terms of the fiscal benefits defunding could have: 115 billion dollars is a lot of money. It could be used to provide affordable housing. It could be used to provide free transit. And free healthcare. And free post- secondary education. All of those initiatives would make it easier to escape the cycle of poverty, including for the people of color often trapped in it.
It’s also critical in the defunding debate to remember that transforming the way we see the police isn’t as radical as it may sound—policing in the USA has only been around for about 150 years, while slavery existed for 250 years before being abolished. When systems are unjust, systems change.
But if we get rid of the police, who keeps people safe? Well, it’s important to remember that the police do many jobs unrelated to violent crime prevention: traffic stops, mental health emergencies, even security in schools. These jobs can be done by social workers and other groups in the community itself. For example, San Francisco has a Transformative Justice Collective, a group of volunteers that deal primarily with child sexual assault by connecting survivors with resources and support without getting cops involved. Dallas is piloting a new system where social workers answer mental health-related 911 calls instead of cops. Shrinking police budgets doesn’t mean the police disappear overnight.
Reduced funding would likely mean that violent crimes, such as murder, would be dealt with by small task forces, and this would be the extent of their work.
So, where do you want your money to go—towards expanding the corrupt, racist, and violent enforcement of the law, or towards a better future?