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Defund the Police?

Why the demand and how did we get here

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  • May 25, 2020: George Floyd, a Black American, was killed by a Minneapolis police offer from the officer kneeling on his neck for over 8 minutes. [The New York Times]
  • Floyd's death ignited a social justice movement aimed at ending unjust police brutality towards Black Americans. [BBC]
  • Protestors across the country are calling for cities across the country to "defund the police."  [Reuters]
  • The first police department in the United States was formed in Boston, MA in 1631. [Encyclopedia Britannica]
  • The United States inherited England’s common law and its system of social obligation, sheriffs, constables, watchmen, and justice. [Encyclopedia Britannica]
  • Historians argue that "slave patrols," comprised of white men, are the roots of U.S. law enforcement and have engrained 400-years of violent and racist behavior toward Black Americans. [USA Today]
  • Today, 1 in 1,000 Black male Americans die annually from police brutality. [National Geographic]
  • This unjust reality for Black Americans is apart of the larger story of systemic racism in America.
  • Protestors across the country are calling for steps to address and end systemic racism in America.



CIVICS: Police department budgets are managed by the state’s city council.


While cities do allocate funding for local departments, most of the money comes from the federal government. Anywhere from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the Department of Agriculture provides funds for hiring more police, equipping them, building new police facilities, and now providing school police officers. [NPR] The state and federal DOJ is responsible for overseeing the policies and conduct of state and local police departments. [Department of Justice]


SOCIAL: The word "defund" means different things to different protestors. It is important to know what specifically the movement desires to change in order to be successful. 



Many are calling for city officials to divert funds from police departments to other public programs, including public education, mental health services, and combatting homelessness. 


Critical social systems, like education, help all communities and leads to fewer police encounters, including incarceration. [Stanford Graduate School of Education


Critical social systems, like education, are facing steep budgets cuts in the face of COVID-19. Diverting funds from the police would help. [The New York Times]




Some argue that city budgets for police departments are out of control, unnecessary, and due for reform. Many are calling for budget cuts. [The Guardian]




Some organized protesting groups, like "8toabolition", want to create a community where police and jails are gone. [Politico]


“The end goal of these reforms is not to create better, friendlier, or more community-oriented police or prisons. Instead, we hope to build toward a society without police or prisons, where communities are equipped to provide for their safety and wellbeing.” [8toabolition]


Don't Divert, Reform

Many who do not support defunding do call for policing reforms, including training, hiring, and accountability.


One way to accomplish this is by only funding effective units. 


Joe Biden has called to not defund the police, but only give "federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.“ [Politico]



Don't Downsize, Keep As Is

Those against defunding the police express the fear that diverting funds to make policing units smaller could remove critical resources and negatively impact communities.  [The Guardian]



Abolish? Who Will Protect?

Some fear that removing police departments and law enforcement all together will cause communities and the nation at large to spiral into chaos. [The Washington Post]

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  • Jun 7, 2020: Minneapolis City Council pledged to "dismantle" the Minneapolis Police Department. City Council president said she is looking to cut $200 million from the $1.3 billion annual budgets and will direct the money elsewhere. [The New York Times]
  • Jun. 8, 2020: President Trump is "appalled" at the idea. [Reuters]
  • Jun. 8, 2020: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said that he does not support defunding or abolishing police departments. [Politico]
  • Aug. 24, 2020: Speakers at the Republican National Convention incorrectly stated that Joe Biden supports defunding the police. [Vox]


Key Vocabulary