If the last weeks of protests and the decades of institutionalized violence that preceded them have taught us anything, it is that the police force has become all too powerful. Particularly in Minneapolis, where police use actual force against black people at seven times the rate of white people and where black Americans are two and a half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police.
The lack of accountability for officers’ actions became blatantly and painfully obvious with the murder of George Floyd. On Sunday, in a historic move, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council vowed to disband the Police Department.
What does disbanding the police mean?
According to the president of the City Council, the city of Minneapolis will cut funds from the police budget, which received $189 million in 2020. Council members haven’t announced how much will be cut, or specific plans for what a new public safety system would look like. They said they would look to studies, and consent decrees and reforms to policing across the world for guidance.
As yet, there is no consensus on what to replace the disbanded police with. Council members have proposed a broad strategy of investing in diverse government departments, social services, and programs while launching a community process for creating alternative systems.
Councilman Jeremiah Ellison has indicated that the new funding safety strategy would halt the use of military equipment and military-style raids, and invest resources in social services for mental health, domestic violence, and homelessness.
Where has this happened before?
Councilors have cited Austin, Texas, where 911 operators evaluate whether a caller needs police, fire, or mental health services before dispatching a response. In Eugene, Oregon, a medic and a crisis worker with mental health training are dispatched to emergency calls.
In 2013, the city of Camden, New Jersey successfully disbanded its police. At the time, Camden was considered among the deadliest cities in the US. The force was replaced with a larger, lower-paid police entity, who received de-escalation training, a new use-of-force policy, and trust-building objectives. Recorded homicides have fallen from 67 to 25 since the changes were brought in.
Why are people calling for the police to be defunded across the US?
Police brutality and institutional racism is a problem beyond Minneapolis. As black people continue to die at the hands of police, multiple activist groups are demanding a change, and an open letter by Movement 4 Black Lives to defund the police could be the much-needed solution.
The letter was released by activist Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter and a founding member of the Movement 4 Black Lives. It outlines the disproportionally large budgets allocated to police departments nationwide compared to other vital public sectors and ties the killings of black people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade to the devastating effects Covid-19 has had on black communities.
“The Covid-19 deaths and the deaths caused by police terror are connected and consequential to each other,” it states. “The United States does not have a national healthcare system. Instead, we have the largest military budget in the world, and some of the most well-funded and militarized police departments […] police and military funding has increased every single year since 1973, and at the same time, funding for public health decreased every year, crystallized most recently when the Trump administration eliminated the U.S. Pandemic Response Team in 2018, citing ‘costs.’”
What are they asking for?
The Movement 4 Black Lives’ letter proposes decreasing police budgets nationally and “for those dollars to be rerouted” to instead increase spending in education, health care, and programs for black communities.
Celebrities such as Lizzo, The Weeknd, John Legend, Common, Yara Shahidi, Natalie Portman, and more have signed the letter in support. You can also add your signature here and join Black Lives Matter’s “#DefundThePolice” petition here.
So what’s the difference between defunding and disbanding
It depends on who you ask. The interpretations exist on a spectrum that reimagines what public safety is. Both concepts prioritize the relocation of funds away from a militarized police force. Disbanding is a more radical divestment approach that aims to dismantle the idea that the police are “public stewards” who are meant to protect communities.
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