abolish? defund?
June 9, 2020 9:36 AM   Subscribe

When people say "Abolish The Police," what do they mean?

When people say "Defund the Police," what do they mean?

What would "abolishing" or "defunding" police departments look like?
posted by the man of twists and turns to Law & Government (25 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I haven't watched it yet but this video was recommended by John Oliver via his Twitter feed.

According to the description
"Wyatt Cenac's Problem Areas" spent a whole season looking at alternative policing approaches, and it's now on YouTube. Here's their segment about what defunding the police can look like (starting at 7:28)

I haven't watched it yet because it's not available in my country but since I have a HBO subscription I might try it there.
posted by M. at 9:45 AM on June 9, 2020

Best answer: In brief, "defund the police" means stop making police the catch-all approach and improve other community support and resources.

Rather than calling the police about people experiencing homelessness, be able to call for support services and housing access

rather than calling the police for drug addition in public, be able to call for support services for treatment

rather than calling the police for people acting agitated or mentally distressed, be able to call for support services for mental health counselor

posted by raccoon409 at 9:48 AM on June 9, 2020 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Based on my experience with on-the-ground organizing amongst police abolitionist groups in a major US city over the past two weeks, people mean different things.

"Defund the police" typically means "reduce the rate of funding to the police drastically." For example, the NYPD currently has a $6b budget. Some people use "Defund the police" as a slogan supporting reducing that budget by $1b (to, let's note, $5b). That's the most mainstream use of the phrase right now, IMO. Many people would seek a more radical defunding—slashing the budget by half or more. In this vision, the money the police currently spend would be diverted to housing, schools, etc., with the goal of addressing the root causes of crime. Obviously this has some implications about reducing the scope of policing, but all the position really says is "reduce $$ to police departments, they're too bloated."

"Abolish the police" is more complicated. Many people use this phrase to mean that they would like to see police departments dissolved and new institutions put up in their place. For instance, social workers sent to help unhoused people who are troubling others in their community; mental health professionals to help people suffering from mental disorders that are causing disruptions; et cetera. They may still believe that there should be a group of people who are licensed to use force against other citizens, but think this group should be much smaller and have a different culture than police currently do. In this vision, of course the money that we currently spend on police would go to other services and address the root causes of crime, but also, many things currently considered "criminal" (like stealing cans out of a trash can) would no longer be considered "criminal." The focus would be on addressing whatever problems can possibly be addressed within a community in non-violent, non-coercive ways. Often people also feel that prisons and jails should be, if not outright abolished, radically rethought (a la Norway's rehabilitation centers, or the rehab centers in Star Trek).

Other people, when they say "abolish the police," mean absolutely "abolish the police" and envision a more radical step—they do not want social workers with police-like abilities to interfere in people's lives, and they do not want the state to have the right to use force against citizens. This is the most extreme position and also entails the complete abolition of prisons and jails, not their reconfiguration into rehabilitation centers. I am not an expert on this position but it is rooted in serious theory and is not nearly as laughable as some people might think.

Many people who actually hold the third position (complete police, jail, and prison abolition) are willing to espouse the other two positions because they know that the third position is not politically possible at this time. Many also argue that you need to "shoot for the moon, so you land among the stars" and therefore promote position #3 as a way to achieve positions #1 and #2 (whether they really endorse position #3 or think it's possible).
posted by branca at 9:49 AM on June 9, 2020 [34 favorites]

Best answer: In most cases, when people talk about defunding police, they mean moving money away from police departments and into schools, mental health services, care work services, housing, legal aid, and other social services for the community. If you have seen some of the charts showing what police budgets look like in comparison to all other public funding in any given city or county, you would see that police budgets far exceed the budgets of any other public service. And just because they have more funding than anyone else, we've been expecting the police to do everyone else's work. That makes no sense. It's crazy to send in a cop with a gun in response to

- a homeless person lying on a bench, or

- a drug addict screaming at the door of their dealer, or

- stray dogs wandering the streets, or

- someone with a broken tail light

which is what cops with guns spend their time doing right now. Like. Why do they need guns for any of it. And WHY COPS, when cops aren't (and shouldn't be, that's not their job!) trained in caring for homeless people or addicts or animals?

So you take money away from police departments to fund other services, and maybe you take away even more money from police departments so that you prioritize, say, PPE for healthcare workers rather than riot gear and assault weapons for cops, and what you're left with is a police department that's made up of unarmed investigators, unarmed traffic and beat officers who enforce general order peacefully, and a small number of armed officers for truly exceptional violent emergencies.
posted by MiraK at 9:52 AM on June 9, 2020 [23 favorites]

Best answer: Free eBooks for The End of Policing and Police: A Field Guide.
posted by dobbs at 9:53 AM on June 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A note: different people mean different things when you get into the details. This is basically always true of a movement that is trying to imagine something *new*. The one thing that is in common is that they believe police are more harmful than helpful right now. That the police are not effective at doing what they are supposed to do and they are effective at doing a bunch of harmful things to marginalized communities.

Some folks argue we should just get rid of them entirely and start over with a new system.

Other people mean something more gradual, like "defund the police" in the sense of dramatically reducing their funding or replacing certain functions rather than shutting them down entirely.

All of them point to many of the functions we ask police to do today ("deal with" homelessness, respond to mental illness, break up fights, investigate crimes, write traffic citations, protect victims of domestic violence) as functions that would be better served by a less-armed force with specialized training in those areas.
posted by Lady Li at 9:55 AM on June 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One model some people are talking about is what was done in Camden, NJ. In 2013, the mayor and City Council dissolved the existing police department and created a countywide force in its place.

Also check out Phillip Atiba Goff of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, talking with Rachel Maddow about the idea behind plans in Minneapolis to dismantle the police department and rebuild something different. Youtube link to that segment.
posted by gudrun at 9:58 AM on June 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This week’s episode of Call Your Girlfriend goes into your questions in an accessible and engaging way.
posted by mdonley at 10:02 AM on June 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I’m using it in a really generic fashion, because I’m just a random dude and nobody listens to me, so I don’t need to be specific. I’m basically saying that something needs to change. To the extent that I’ve gone any deeper than that, I’m generally thinking about defunding police the way I think about cutting the Pentagon’s budget. I don’t think we should abolish the armed forces or the police entirely, but we should scale both of them them back significantly, and refocus their missions.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:03 AM on June 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It means get rid of the standing army we have and replace it with a variety of highly trained situation-specific first responders who know what the hell they're doing, of which 99% do not need to carry weapons.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:19 AM on June 9, 2020 [9 favorites]

Best answer: To help answer your questions, there is this article from the AP, this article from WaPo, this thorough explainer from the Guardian, this essay by Annie Lowrey at the Atlantic, this related analysis by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor at the New Yorker, this opinion piece by Alex S. Vitale in the Guardian, this interview with Alex S. Vitale by Meagan Day at Jacobin, and this interview with Alex S. Vitale by NPR.
posted by katra at 10:28 AM on June 9, 2020 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop
One final idea: consider abolishing the police.
I know what you’re thinking, “What? We need the police! They protect us!” As someone who did it for nearly a decade, I need you to understand that by and large, police protection is marginal, incidental. It’s an illusion created by decades of copaganda designed to fool you into thinking these brave men and women are holding back the barbarians at the gates.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:57 AM on June 9, 2020 [18 favorites]

Best answer: There have been illustrative graphics floating around regarding various city budgets. This example for Los Angeles might give some additional context to the value of shifting finding from policing to lifting all boats.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:27 AM on June 9, 2020

Response by poster: Growing calls to “defund the police,” explained
Police abolitionists are proposing a scaling-back of the scope of police activities that is far outside the horizon of current political possibility, so they may not articulate the most fine-grained details.

The “defund” slogan dances ambiguously between abolition-type schemes and just saying officials should spend less money on policing at the margins. The Black Lives Matters #DefundThePolice explainer page argues that “law enforcement doesn’t protect or save our lives. They often threaten and take them.” By contrast, a Justin Brooks op-ed at the Appeal titled “Defund the Police Now” is an extended argument for spending somewhat less money on crime control and somewhat more on social services, as a win-win resulting in less crime, less punishment, and less police violence against civilians.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:29 AM on June 9, 2020

Wow, that essay from a former cop needs to be spread far and wide, if it hasn't been already. Thank you for introducing that, tmotat
posted by newpotato at 11:48 AM on June 9, 2020

Best answer: I live in Vermont where policing is very town-by-town as well as there being a state police force (but a fairly recent and fairly small one). Some towns have town-funded police. Some towns have a (no gun) constable. Some towns pay the county for policing and use the Sheriff's department and some towns have nothing and use the State Police for all the policing that needs to happen.

Recently our main town cop left to go run the police department in another town, we had a few resignations, our replacement police chief left, and our town was left looking at a ton of police vacancies and what to do next, maybe we were at a pivot point? So we had a bunch of meetings to decide what to do. I was on team "Abolish the police" (this was maybe a year ago?) and my argument was that we gave them a LOT of money and a lot of the things they did in our small town were just things that a more robust mental health system or first responder system could maybe manage.

Also at these meetings were people who were concerned about mainly drugs but also property damage and felt the police were integral to safety. ALSO at these meetings were people outside of the village (our town is a larger town with a smaller village in the center - only the village pays for policing) who were like "We don't need police we have our own guns" which is also a represented perspective here.

So I generally back the John Oliver perspective. Demilitarize the police entirely (you're not going to war nearly all the time, stop dressing for it). Pull their funding waaaaaay back. Invest that funding into other types of first responders like mental health, social work/domestic violence, the fucking LIBRARY, animal control officers and an EDUCATION system that talks about how, in many ways, crime has been dropping steadily for decades in ways that are not really linked to the increase in policing (even though they will take the credit for it).

All of the conservative pundits and internet tough guys I've seen have been like "What about if my baby gets snatched or my wife gets raped. Then what?" without the additional info that those crimes are very unlikely to get investigated unless you're white and middle class or more, and even so your rapes probably still won't get investigated. It's always been a deck stacked in favor of the privileged. Criminal justice reform, serious reform, needs to be AT LEAST this but also more than this.

Incidentally our town did decide to go with contracting with the Sheriff (including this lovely gentleman who did not shoot up OUR town but wtf guy?) which has saved us a ton of money and baby snatchings and rapes are just where they were before this (steadily at zero). Still more police than I'd like but I think it's a lot more clear that they serve US and not the other way around.
posted by jessamyn at 12:38 PM on June 9, 2020 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Twilight of the Cop Consensus
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:49 AM on June 11, 2020

Response by poster: What We Mean When We Say Defund the Police
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:16 AM on June 11, 2020

Response by poster: Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:45 PM on June 12, 2020

Response by poster: Donald Trump is defunding the police - "President Trump has repeatedly proposed cuts in federal funding for police, criticized landmark legislation that boosted financial support for police departments, and is currently involved in blocking legislation that would greatly reduce pressure on local governments to cut police funding.

In layman’s terms, he’s been trying to defund the police.

Of course activists and intellectuals who have rallied behind the slogan “defund the police” have something bigger and grander in mind than random budget cuts."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:52 AM on June 16, 2020

Response by poster: Abolish These Police Departments
Too much of the debate over what to do about policing is abstract. If police abolition represents the radical boundary of our discourse, if “defund the police” sounds baffling to people who are rarely policed and scary to people who believe they depend on police for their safety, it might be easier to move from the general to the specific. What should be done about the Minneapolis Police Department? If you’re scared of what sound like radical demands, or on the fence about a slogan like “defund the police,” I urge you to read both of these articles, and think about “the police” not in the abstract, or even in the personal (who would I call if someone broke into my house?), but in terms of the currently existing institution of the Minneapolis Police Department. Maybe the question “does Minneapolis need cops” can be answered after a more urgent question: “Does Minneapolis need the Minneapolis Police Department?”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:53 AM on June 17, 2020

Response by poster: How I Became A Police Abolitionist
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:43 AM on July 8, 2020

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