An oft-repeated refrain in our Daily Kos community is that Defund the Police is a stupid slogan. It actually pains me to see a progressive community be so dismissive of the amount of time, consideration, research, advocacy, and deep thinking that has preceded calls to defund police.
In the days following George Floyd’s brutal murder under the knee of Derek Chauvin, there was finally widespread belief that our police departments are not plagued by rogue “bad apples,” but instead, across the nation, they follow patterns and practices of abuse and protecting. each other from accountability due to allegiance to the so-called thin blue line.
In my own city of Minneapolis, the police department has been found to have a pattern and practice of discrimination. They have a pattern and practice of racially targeting residents for needless harassment. They have a pattern and practice of escalating interventions when the department’s own policies call for other tactics. They have a pattern and practice of escalating more often with Black residents in particular, and those escalations more often resulting in officer injury. They have a pattern of practice of failing to report serious incidents and of failing to appropriately discipline officers. They also have a pattern and practice of marginalizing officers of color.
This police department has been found to ignore its own emergency protocol and not only physically attacked protesters in the wake of the George Floyd murder, but also journalists. They have been caught on camera literally hunting people down on the streets to shoot them with “less lethal” ammunition, mere minutes after the city-imposed curfew during protests. They have engaged residents as enemy combatants, and sometimes with military surplus equipment. Despite all these findings, the Minneapolis Police Department’s budget has increased by more than $ 13 million since 2020.
The Minnesota Department of Health found that no policy change would be sufficient to root out this corruption, and that deep cultural change — the kind that chiefs and politicians have been pledging for years yet failing to deliver — is what it would take to even slightly reform this police department.
It’s obviously not just Minneapolis. Not only has the number of Black people extrajudicially executed by police increased across the nation, but so has police funding. Despite police departments constantly droning on about how they can not effectively fight crime without more and more money, crime has been trending downward for decades as police spending soarsa trend we are only exacerbating without taking a good, hard look at these budgets and siphoning funds away.
Another consideration that has not been treated with the urgency it deserves is the tight connection between law enforcement and white nationalism. The FBI has been warning us for more than 15 years now that our nation faces an alarming white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement, notably including officers who instruct and train new recruits — high-ranking people with lots of authority. Fifteen police trainers and dozens of retired police trainers were found on the Oath Keepers database alone. The Oath Keepers was one of several white nationalist groups leading the Jan. 6 insurrection against our democracy.
We are funding literal anti-democracy white nationalists who abuse our communities and exonerate each other. Keep in mind that, no matter the high-profile cases where we’ve received a tiny slice of justice, cops who murder people are almost never even chargedlet alone tried and convicted.
Perhaps the most compelling argument there is for defunding the police is that they simply do not do what they purport to do. The propaganda is prevalent, but police do not protect and serve our communities (particularly mine, as a Black woman who was raised in a working-class neighborhood). Aside from representing danger instead of protection, police are not effective at solving or preventing crime.
One must truly consider how police juke their stats and then ask why we so unquestioningly believe their narrative that they fill a vital role in our communities. Police departments often laud (or agonize over) their clearance rates. Nationally, police “clear“About 30 to 40% of crimes. This statistic is already paltry, but clearance rates refer to how often police arrest someone and refer them for prosecution.
When we look at actual solve rates — meaning someone has been arrested, tried, convicted, or otherwise held accountable for the commission of a crime, police solve roughly 4% of crimes. FOUR PERCENT. Take into account that only about half of crimes are actually reported to police (for a variety of reasons, including not trusting police), and that figure is closer to TWO percent. Police solve roughly 2% of crimes each year.
What other public agency with a 2% effectiveness rating would we allow to swallow up the lion’s share of city budgets, while also failing to hold them to a minimal standard of conduct? Honestly, how much more are we willing to accept from law enforcement before we do something? And by “something,” I do not mean increasing their funding for trainings that have yet to make a dent in this culture.
It was not conservative “tough on crime” backlash that tanked any ability to discuss defunding the police as a policy. It was the collective progressive lack of imagination and refusal to sincerely interrogate what defunding police departments would look like, because we feared conservatives might pervert the demand. Instead we did the work for them.
Whether you mean “defund the police” by diverting a significant amount of funding from their coffers toward more tried-and-true community interventions, or you mean “defund the police” by eventually starving them of resources so that it is no longer possible for them to exist as our primary public safety agency, defunding the police makes sense. To dismiss it as a stupid slogan without even asking questions (or suggesting that the need to ask questions is, in itself, a failure) is to show a fundamental lack of curiosity about proposed solutions from people who are most impacted by this issue. It also shows an unwillingness to engage in good faith.
One of my favorite quotes about police (and prison) abolition comes from Ruth Wilson Gilmore, an abolition activist and scholar with decades of work under her belt: “Abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.”
Even those of us who advocate defunding police down to nothing recognize that abolishing police is a disaster waiting to happen, if we are not also investing in life-affirming institutions. I liken it to my limited experience driving stick shift: If we let up off the clutch without pushing on the gas pedal, the vehicle stalls out. We cannot have forward movement unless we are engaged in both of those activities at the same time. The common assumption that people who are calling for the widespread removal of funds from police departments have not also thought about presence is something I would like everyone reading this to consider. Then consider advocating to defund the police.