The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers have sparked protests around the world. One thing that can be heard chanted by protesters, tweeted by activists, and written on signs: Defund the police.
The police officers responsible for Floyd's death on May 25 were fired once the video evidence went public, but it took four days of protests for former officer Derek Chauvin to be arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. It took nine more days of nationwide unrest, protests, and continued incidents of police violence for the three other officers involved to be arrested as well and for Chauvin's charge to be bumped up to second-degree murder.
No charges or arrests have been made since Breonna Taylor was shot by police while sleeping in her bed on March 13.
Beyond showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter on behalf of lives lost to police brutality and white supremacy, protestors are also asking for an end to systemic racism and to defund America's police force. "We call for an end to the systemic racism that allows this culture of corruption to go unchecked and our lives to be taken," the BLM website reads. "We call for a national defunding of police. We demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive."
The first demand is clear, but the second—defunding the police—can seem more difficult to understand. Here's what you need to know.
How much money is allocated to the police now?
According to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data conducted by the Urban Institute on behalf of Bloomberg Businessweek, in 2017, America spent $114.5 billion on police funding. That means police funding has tripled since 1977, when the U.S. spent just $42.3 billion on police (and before you ask, yes, this number was adjusted for inflation).
The Center for Popular Democracy can help contextualize that number with its “Freedom to Thrive” report, which profiled major cities and their police forces. "Among the jurisdictions profiled, police spending vastly outpaces expenditures in vital community resources and services, with the highest percentage being 41.2% of general fund expenditures in Oakland," the report explains.
Other cities cited in the report included Los Angeles, where more than 25% of the general fund currently goes toward police (in April, Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed a new budget that would have put this number at 53.8%). In Minneapolis, where Floyd was murdered, 35.8% of its general fund goes toward police.
Does defunding the police mean disbanding it all together?
This depends a bit on who you ask. Some supporters say yes, while others say it's a rallying cry to divert money to underfunded community programs and utilize other services for emergency calls that should not be handled by cops.
“People across the country are ready for a defunding framework,” Patrisse Cullors, cofounder of Black Lives Matter and founder of Reform L.A. Jails explained to Time. “We’re ready to chip away at the line items inside of a police budget that really are nonsensical. Police should not be in charge of mental health crises. They should not be in charge of dealing with homelessness. They should not be in charge of ‘supporting’ people with drug dependency and addiction. Those are three line items which we can cut out of the police budget and then put that back into health care.”
MPD150, a community advocacy organization in Minneapolis, calls to completely abolishing local police. "The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best-equipped to deal with those crises," the organization says in its FAQ doc.
Where would the money go instead?
As Cullors explained, some funding would go to different resources, such as mental health professionals and reinvesting in the community by providing more funds for homeless shelters and schools.
For specifics, the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter put together the People’s Budget, an "alternative to the mayor’s proposed 2020–21 budget."
The People’s Budget would allocate just 5.7% of general funds to law enforcement and policing, or "just about one tenth of the 54% given to the LAPD in the mayor’s proposed budget."
The leftover money currently allocated to police would then go to programs like universal aid and crisis management, built environment, and reimagined community safety, leaving law enforcement and police with 5.72% of funds. In other words, the budget would not get rid of police completely but be spread across the community and preventive organizations instead.
Would this lead to more crime?
Some studies have actually shown that reducing police and increasing more community programs could, in fact, decrease crime.
"Study after study shows that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are more successful in reducing crime than more police or prisons," the Center for Popular Democracy explained in the “Freedom to Thrive” report.
In 2017, when New York City police took a break from "active policing" (i.e., answering calls for low-level offenses), the city actually saw a decline in major crime by 3% to 6% during the slowdown.
“The cessation of proactive policing corresponds roughly to the relative decline in crime that earlier research attributed to the effects of mass incarceration,” the authors of the study noted in their findings, according to the Los Angeles Times. "While we cannot entirely rule out the effects of underreporting, our results show that crime complaints decreased, rather than increased, during a slowdown in proactive policing, contrary to deterrence theory.”
Can defunding the police really be done?
It could, but it may take a while and will likely only happen over time in bits and pieces. However, there are already small glimmers of hope for those making the demand.
For example, in Los Angeles, Mayor Garcetti already announced he plans to abandon his April proposed budget and instead direct $250 million to youth jobs, health initiatives, and “peace centers," according to the Los Angeles Times. The money, according to the publication, will come from other city operations, while as much as $150 million could come from the Los Angeles Police Department.
In Minneapolis, city council member Steve Fletcher shared in a Twitter thread that the council is discussing "what it would take to disband the Minneapolis Police Department and start fresh with a community-oriented, nonviolent public safety and outreach capacity."
Fletcher added in his tweets, "We can totally reimagine what public safety means, what skills we're recruiting for, what tools we do and don't need. We can invest in cultural competency and mental health training, deescalation, and conflict resolution."
Originally Appeared on Glamour