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What People Mean by 'Defund the Police'

It varies, but common idea is to divert money from police to social programs, communities
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 8, 2020 7:42 AM CDT

(Newser) – The George Floyd protests have resulted in a new mantra: "Defund the police." But what does that mean exactly? The definitions vary, but the most common one centers on redirecting some of the money that goes to police departments to social programs and marginalized communities, reports CNN. Police departments wouldn't be dissolved, but cities would fundamentally rethink what officers are asked to do. Coverage:

  • Evolution: This used to be more of a thought bubble among activists and academics on the left, but it's been going more mainstream in recent years, and the Floyd case has cemented that, per the Washington Post. The city of Minneapolis, for example, is taking steps to disband its department and New York City is cutting the NYPD budget, reports Newsweek. Still, the meaning of "defund the police" is on a spectrum, a Yale sociology expert tells CNN, with some definitions more radical than others.
  • A book: The movement has brought renewed attention to the 2017 book The End of Policing, by sociology professor Alex Vitale of Brooklyn College. "I'm certainly not talking about any kind of scenario where tomorrow someone just flips a switch and there are no police," he tells NPR in an interview. "What I'm talking about is the systematic questioning of the specific roles that police currently undertake." Most burglaries, for example, are driven by drug use, he notes. Better drug-treatment programs could help ease that.

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  • Critics: Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf called defunding police "absurd" on Fox News Sunday, and Attorney General William Barr denied that systemic racism exists in US police departments. Last week, Fox's Tucker Carlson called defunding the police a crazy idea that would mean "thugs are in charge," per Fox.
  • Black Lives Matter: BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors tells WBUR that defunding is essential "because it means we are reducing the ability of law enforcement to have resources that harm our communities.” Instead of spending the money on armored vehicles, invest it in black communities, she says.
  • Semantics? "It's not a slogan I'll use," says Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, referring to "defund the police," per the Washington Examiner. But he does support fundamental changes in police roles. Activist and actor George Takei isn't thrilled with the slogan, either. "Let's be smart," he writes. "Let’s not call this 'defunding' the police. That won’t fly with the public. I say, let’s 'demilitarize' the cops. Take that money and fund minority communities."
  • John Oliver: He's on board. In his latest Last Week Tonight, Oliver backs the idea and notes that it could benefit officers, too, per Deadline. "The concept is that the role of the police can then significantly shrink because they are not responding to the homeless or to mental health calls or arresting children in schools or really any other situation where the best solution is not someone showing up with a gun—that’s the idea of defunding the police.”
  • Congress: Democrats (including Booker) will unveil legislation Monday calling for a wide range of police reforms. Among other things, it would make it easier to prosecute officers for abuses, reports the Wall Street Journal.
(Read more George Floyd stories.)

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