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Defund the Police: Demystifying the Battle Cry

By Suzannah Young

Despite what it may look like at first glance, “defund the police” does not literally mean defund the police.

Photo Credit to The New York Times

“A lot of people think defunding the police means to get rid of the police but that's not what it means,” said Charles Bell, a graduate assistant for Barry intramurals and panelist on the Deliberative Dialogue forum “Why Race Matters.”


“It’s not so much about not giving money to the police, but instead around reallocating that money to areas that are better fit to serve and protect people,” he said.

According to The Cut, the style section of New York magazine, ‘defund’ in the 2020 call-to-action means to ‘reduce’ and ‘reallocate.’ 

Graphic Credit to Ben & Jerry's

It means to reduce the amount of government money spent on the police force and reallocate that money to social services that prevent crime and enhance the community.

Although defunding the police gained national attention through increased media coverage this year as it became a focal point of the Black Lives Matter movement, the notion has actually been around for quite some time.


“The term defund the police has been around since the 90’s, but Malcolm X was saying the same thing during the civil rights movement,” Bell said.

According to an article from Politico, the idea for the abolishment of the police began as an offshoot of W.E.B. DuBois’ prison abolition movement. 


An article from Dispatch explains abolitionist theory as the way that the framework of policing and incarceration in the United States “makes up a complex system of social control and domination and is therefore both unnecessary and actively oppressive.”


As the prison abolition movement grew in the ‘80s and ‘90s, two prominent black female activists at the time - Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore – further developed the idea to encompass policing, which eventually led to the contemporary movement of “defund the police.”


The motion to defund the police really started moving forward. However, immediately following the murder of George Floyd, protestors in Minneapolis started to be more adamant in their demand for change. 

Photo Credit to Brookings Institution

In an article published by Bloomberg Businessweek comparing data collected from both the U.S. Census and FBI, investments in policing in the U.S. have almost tripled since 1977, increasing from about $42 billion to almost $115 billion. 

“We need more social workers and better education. The money should go toward social workers, counselors and especially teachers,” said Bell.

To add insult to injury, despite the increase in funding, trends actually show an increase in crime rates.

Amanda Knight, a co-facilitator at Barry’s deliberative dialogue forum “Why Race Matters,” explained how this phenomenon has been reflected in our society.