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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. 

“Local funding has [recently] been decreasing for education, social services, mental health services, recreation, etc., and we’ve seen a major increase in police funding,” Knight said. “These funds are being used to obtain military equipment, essentially militarizing our police forces, yet there has not been a commensurate decrease in crime.”

The essential idea here is that by putting more money into schools, youth services, and public health, societal problems such as mental illness and crime - problems that the police are tasked with handling - would decrease and be met by more proactive solutions.

Graphic Credit to The New Yorker

“We are spending millions of dollars to give the police all these guns and technology - and some of them some still abuse their power - when you could be putting that money into something that everybody's benefiting from,” Bell said.

For Bell, the best way to use government funds would be to put them back into schools, investing in education and children in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.

“Inconsistencies in education mean that if you live in a poorer area, you’re probably not going to have the psychological resources you need,” Bell said. “We have to give teachers the tools they need to deal with these kids.”

In the most recent presidential debate, Joe Biden announced that he “is completely opposed to defunding the police,” although he does believe that “they need more assistance” and that he wants to reimplement “community policing.”

Although this is a rejection of the movement, it may also just be a way for the campaign to encompass more moderate voters intimidated by the movement, as many of Biden’s policies reflect reformations that are very similar to those of defunding the police.

Bell also explains the importance of putting taxpayer’s dollars into education to prevent crimes rather than using violence to stop them as they happen.

Photo Credit to Socialist Alternative

“When you take those millions of dollars and put it into the school system, you’re going to have more educated people and those educated people are less likely to commit crimes,” Bell said. “Then, there’s no need to have this arsenal of weapons because people are going to be more civilized.”

Dr. Laura Finley, professor of criminology and sociology, admits that while she thinks that police do more harm than good, she does see how police budgets and unions have come at the expense of social services.

“As we discuss redistribution of funding, we also need to discuss training for police in de-escalation,” Finley said. “Most do not receive this, yet it would be helpful if rather than use force in tense situations, officers knew how to use communication to de-escalate.”

One example of successful demilitarization and reallocation of money from police departments occurred in 2012 in the crime-ridden city of Camden, New Jersey.

According to an article published by, not only was the city proclaimed the “most dangerous city in the US,” but it also possessed a severely corrupt police force that had a history of “planting drugs” on local citizens.

As crime continued to increase, the city decided to start over by dismantling the old department and instead hiring only 100 new officers and reducing their wages. Not only did crime rates decrease by 42 percent, but the city was able to use the old police funds on community building programs in education and the workplace.

Bell sees the increased popularity of the movement as a larger ripple effect.

“The pandemic has made us have to slow down,” Bell said. “Now, because we're at home, we are watching more TV and there is no outlet to get your mind off of [Floyd’s murder]. Everybody was forced to see this and actually have to say, ‘oh my god this is actually a problem.’”

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