What ‘Defund the Police’ Really Means

Reallocating the budgets of police departments isn’t a new idea, but one that’s reached the mainstream

Arionne Nettles
ZORA
Published in
5 min readJun 10, 2020

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A photo of a protest. One big sign reads “DEFUND THE POLICE.”
A participant holding a Defund The Police sign at the protest. Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Brooklyn on June 2, 2020, in a massive march to demand justice for George Floyd, killed by Officer Derek Chauvin and to make a loud call for the defunding of the police force. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket/Getty Images

The recent police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis outraged the country, sparked global protests, and became the latest symbol of the centuries of systemic violence toward Black Americans. It also reignited calls to defund the police — an idea that may be new to public discussion, but not to the many activists and academics who have pushed for and studied what this significant change could look like nationwide.

On Sunday, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council answered those calls with a vow to defund and dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and to create a new public safety system. It’s a move that has been misinterpreted by some.

“It is not a call for anarchy. It is a call to rethink the assumption that Black and Latino communities can be ‘helped’ by this punitive occupying force,” Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Brown University and author of Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court, tells ZORA. “When people say defund, what they’re saying is, ‘Please break this mold and redesign it based on the health of communities.’”

In plain English, defunding the police means taking money usually allocated to the police department — or the sheriff’s department — and shifting it to other agencies. That could look like moving money from police to better finance public schools or mental health clinics or grief counselors. Given that police are called to respond to every kind of incident — from cats in trees and alligators in pools to shootings and car accidents — defunding the police calls for providing more money to the appropriate agency. This way, the remaining police can focus.

The idea of defunding, though, lies on a spectrum. Some do seek to completely abolish policing, saying that communities can police themselves when given the…

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Arionne Nettles
ZORA
Writer for

Arionne Nettles is a lecturer at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, a Chicago-based journalist, and a special needs mama.