Defund the Police, Invest in Communities

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division released a damning report on the Ferguson, Missouri police department.

“Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the city’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs,” the report summary concluded, “contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing” and practices that “both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias” against African Americans.

The details were so devastating that they led to resignations from Ferguson’s police chief and city manager. Ferguson’s top court clerk and two officers who were found to have shared racist emails also resigned.

Ferguson was just one town, where the police killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown led to some of the first mass “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations. But it showed a national problem: Police were aggressively initiating conflicts with residents to seek revenue for the city.

Now, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and other black Americans by police, activists and experts across the country have a simple solution for the revenue problem and the police problem: Defund the police.

A few years ago, a collaboration between The Center for Popular Democracy, Law For Black Lives, and Black Youth Project 100 yielded a fascinating report into “reimagining safety and security in our communities.”

Entitled Freedom to Thrive, the report analyzed police spending in metropolitan cities. Most of those cities spent anywhere from 25 to over 40 percent of their general funds on policing, and far smaller sums on other social needs.

A different report from the Urban Institute found that, from 1977 to 2017, state and local governments went from spending $60 billion a year on police and corrections in 1977 to $194 billion in 2017. Those inflation-adjusted numbers don’t even include settlements paid out to victims and families who suffer from police brutality.

That’s a lot of revenue that could otherwise be spent on services, social workers, teachers, and others. Combined with a downward-trending violent crime rate over the last 20 to 30 years, that level of spending is unconscionable. In a country over where 40 million people are unemployed and, even before the pandemic, one in nine people officially lived in poverty, we must shift our focus.

It’s time to divest resources from law enforcement, and put them into services that prioritize the community at large, like education.

It’s no surprise, after George Floyd’s murder, that the public school district in Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota both made moves to cut their contracts with local police. Those decisions were made to protect students, but it’s also true that education and policing are old rivals for state and local tax dollars.

Police funds could also be moved into transit, health care, and nutrition, particularly after COVID-19 brought attention to both food and health care deserts in U.S. communities — and especially in light of the pandemic’s devastating effect on black Americans.

And don’t forget mental health and social work. Professional social workers would be much better first responders to people experiencing mental health crises than armed police officers.

These conversations need to happen now, and they should happen all over the country. We have the knowledge and the resources to replace aggressive policing with investments in the services that will actually keep our communities safe. We also need legislation such as Sen. Brian Schatz’s proposal to stop transferring military weapons to police departments.

When we depower — and defund — the police, then we can truly have “power to the people.”

Ken Makin (@differencemakin) is a freelance writer and host of the Makin’ A Difference podcast.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach