What Defund the Police Really Means

What Defund the Police Really Means


By Jessica VanEgeren

June 5, 2020

Rebuilding departments and moving money from weaponry to prevention.

There is a short list of requests or demands by demonstrators in Madison and across the country following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Almost every list includes something called “defund the police.”

It means different things to different groups depending on how much less money local governments spend on police department budgets while shifting those taxpayer dollars to public health or social justice programs. 

For those leading the demonstrations in Madison, they use the phrase literally and want a total abolition of the police force in favor of restorative justice.

“This is not an individual conflict that we as organizers or activists or any other black person has with one cop. It’s not just about the one cop that did the harm,” said Mahnker Dahnweih, the community power building coordinator for Freedom Inc., one of the organizations coordinating the daily demonstrations in Madison. “This is about systemic violence. The police as an organization are being used to enforce white supremacy and patriarchy.”

Dahnweih and others traced the history of police oppression against Black men and women to the days of slavery. They point to the fact it was once legal to enslave people and legal for police to return those who escaped to their owners. 

Law enforcement allowed decades of lynching, Civil Rights leaders were killed and now African American are disproportionately incarcerated in America, said the advocates leading a Facebook live discussion Wednesday on defunding the police. 

“It all is wrapped around and rooted in military conquest. It is the American way. It is this thing that they use to destroy us,” said Brandi Grayson, the founder and CEO of Urban Triage Inc. “In order for us to move ahead and create a paradigm shift where Black people are treated in value as the human beings that they are, then we must defund the police.”

Grayson said funding must be taken away from the military and police who “destroy our community and destroy our black children, which has caused this outrage, this hurt in this pain with no outlet of expression.”

M. Adams, the co-executive director of Freedom Inc., said once people understand how policing is connected to colonialism and how policing is “for Black people, a reiteration of lynching,” then people can start to understand why the movement is calling for the abolishion of law enforcement.

“That’s what it means to be an abolitionist. It means that you do not think policing and prisons should be used to solve social problems,” Adams said. “So instead of just saying, what can I do to punish this person, we should really be asking is what’s at the root of the harm and how do we work toward ending harm and not just punishing somebody.”

What Defund the Police Really Means: Moving Money From Weapons to Prevention
Mahnker Dahnweih is the community power building coordinator for Freedom Inc., one of the organizations coordinating the daily demonstrations in Madison. She talks to demonstrators Wednesday prior to forming a caravan that drove to the home of the Dane County sheriff. (Photo by Jessica VanEgeren).

In the city of Los Angeles, politicians are heeding the requests of a petition circulating by the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The Los Angeles Police Department was set to receive a large increase in its annual budget from $1.189 billion last year to $1.86 billion (most of the budget increases were for new police bonuses) for 2020-2021 before Mayor Eric Garcetti axed that move Wednesday, cutting $100-$150 million after activists rallied outside of his home, according to Forbes

In New York, more than 40 city council candidates are calling for a $1 billion cut to the NYPD’s $6 billion budget over four years to help fund other programs such as the city’s summer youth employment program.In cities such as Minneapolis, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Nashville, similar movements are gaining traction.

Groups seeking a reduction in funding for police gathered outside of the Milwaukee Police Administration building Thursday asking Barrett to reduce funding for the Milwaukee Police Department by $75 million and instead use that funding for public health and “cooperative housing.”

Many lawmakers remain leery of the proposal, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who told Forbes “I would say that is not the way forward,” to Gov. Tony Evers. 

Evers described the time we are living in Thursday as a “watershed moment for our nation” that requires everyone to come together to fight racism.

This week, he has twice called on the GOP-controlled Legislature to reconvene to take up Assembly Bill 1012. The bill, which has no Republican cosponsors, would reform police policies across Wisconsin by making the preservation of life a priority while minimizing the use of force. 

Evers, however, is not a fan of defunding the police. In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier this week, Evers said that most law enforcement officers “are in the profession for the right reason so the idea of completely disassembling police in the state or Milwaukee, I couldn’t support.” 

In a tweet Thursday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said “the officer who killed Mr. Floyd should be and will be punished. Eliminating police departments will only make our communities more dangerous and lead to greater unrest in the long run. If no one enforces the law, it’s called anarchy.” 

In the wake of Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis City Council already is debating the issue. 

Northside council member Jeremiah Ellison, who on Thursday tweeted “we are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department.”

“And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together,” added Ellison, who is the son of the son of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Minneapolis Public Schools Board Chair Kim Ellison. “We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response. It’s really past due.”

Council president Lisa Bender backed Ellison’s call, tweeted: “Yes. We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a transformative new model of public safety.”


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