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Defunding the Police 101

There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding out there about defunding the police. What it means, why we need it, what comes next, and how to go about it. Many of these questions have simple answers, but they still require explanation. 

So, what does ‘defund’ even mean? Well, defund simply means that funding to the service is cut a little at first but drastically over time. This allows the money cut from police budgets, which are up to 50% of many state or city budgets and giving it to other services that will help stop crime before it happens. Specifically, education, but funding is also needed for infrastructure and housing in disenfranchised neighborhoods, drug addiction and mental health resources, and non-police responders such as social workers and mental health professionals who accompany the police on related calls. It does not mean abolish, though that is what many people in the Black Lives Matter movement are calling for. I will get into abolition in a moment.

The need for drastic change is clear. This year alone, of the 496 people shot to death by police, nearly a quarter were Black. This compared to the 40% made up by white people shows very clearly just how bad this problem has gotten. If race were not a factor, these percentages would be similar to population data. That would be 13% Black and 76% white. One study found that white people are twice as likely to have a weapon than a Black person, which should skew those statistics more heavily to white killings. But they do not. 

We need to defund the police because any number of people wrongly shot to death is too high. I should not have statistics based on four hundred ninety-six deaths to base a point about racism on. If this is not enough to show that this is a racial problem, I would encourage you to look into the history of policing. The police, as we know them today, were founded and built in order to keep newly freed Black people from succeeding. They were made to arrest Black people for the pettiest crimes and to exaggerate things they saw to get them into legislation. This is why Jaywalking is a crime, and it is literally named for a slur used at the time. The police were also specified to be white men and were often hired because of ‘outside connections’ with higher officers. In short, the KKK built and ran the police.

While a lot has changed since then, it does not change the way that the police system is built and the goals of policing crime instead of lessening it. It needs to be defunded and rebuilt for any change to take hold. Many people believe that that will not be enough. They believe the police system needs to be dismantled/abolished and replaced if we are to do away with the intentions built into it. Abolition is much more complicated than defunding the police, and there is no one definition for what abolition would look like. The most common plan I am aware of employs specialists in multiple sectors of public service, such as drug addiction, mental health, sexual violence, family/domestic violence, etc. to respond to emergency calls. With this the need for public safety is in the forefront, and very few calls will need to be responded to with men with guns.

Whether you believe in defunding or abolition, the goal of any reform is to focus on the safety and health of the community and working toward less crime in general. It boils down pretty simply: the best response to a crisis is usually not a man with a gun.

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