Calls to Defund Police Gain Traction Across U.S.

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New York City police officers. Photo by David Merrett via Flickr

Along with banning chokeholds, ending no-knock warrants, and requiring officers to intervene if they see another officer using excessive force, the mounting demands of protesters to defund police are being heard in city halls across the nation.

Organizers are pushing city and state leaders to reallocate some funding for policing—often the largest chunk of budgets—to social services. They say that would ease some of the conflicts police are called on to address.

Protests over the killing of George Floyd have lasted for three weeks, and with incidents like those in Seattle, Wa, and Richmond, Va, they show no signs of abating. In fact, protesters plan for a summer of demonstrations aimed at systemic reforms, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“We’re not going to see it quell until we see some hard systemic changes,” said Chanelle Helm, 40, lead organizer with Black Lives Matter Louisville.

Supporting protesters’ calls to reduce police funding is the fact that police budgets have grown as a share of public spending from 6.6 percent in 1977 to 7.8 percent in 2017 in 150 large cities, the New York Times reports. However, violent crime rates have precipitously declined nationwide since the 1990s.

Therefore, continuous expansion of police budgets and forces may no longer serve its initial purpose.

Regarding their push to defund police departments, protesters have been met with success in some municipalities but not in others.

Notably, Mayor Jacob Frey of Minneapolis, Mn, the city in which Floyd was killed, opposes defunding the police.

In Texas, where most city fiscal years begin Oct. 1, there will be fights over police funding as budgets are hammered out. Austin city leaders indicated they wouldn’t support funding for additional police officers or militarized police equipment. Houston, whose fiscal year begins July 1, included slightly increased police funding in a $5.1 billion budget approved Wednesday.

Philadelphia officials put off a planned increase to police funding amid calls from activists.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged to cut as much as $150 million budgeted for his city’s police force.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser had a section of 16th Street near the White House painted with the words “Black Lives Matter” in bright yellow and renamed a section of the street “Black Lives Matter Plaza” last week. However, her proposed budget put out last month increases funding for the police, NPR reports.

When asked if she is reconsidering that decision, Bowser responded, “Not at all.”

It appears that Newark, N.J., is the latest city to defund its police. On Wednesday, Newark City Council passed an ordinance that will redirect up to $15 million from the police division to community-based anti-violence efforts, according to a TAPinto article.

With that $15 million, the legislation will establish an Office of Violence Prevention, develop anti-violence initiatives, and make racist acts an automatically fireable offense for city employees.

Although millions of people have taken to the streets to demand changes to city budgets, the public may not be on board.

According to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday, 64 percent of Americans oppose calls for defunding police departments, and 60 percent specifically oppose diverting funds from police agencies to public health and social programs.

The nation’s civil unrest could culminate in August, when the Rev. Al Sharpton and George Floyd’s family plan a march on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Michael Gelb is a TCR News Intern.

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