Life After the Police?: Calls to defund the police in the US grow

July 9, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

A pattern of racialised institutional abuse and brutality in America has led to growing calls to “defund the police”.

What does this mean?

The $115bn spent on US police is larger than all but two of the world’s national military budgets. Supporters argue a specially-designed system of public safety should be adopted across the United States in lieu of this. Local police departments regularly use military-grade weaponry, armoured trucks and even robots for “explosive ordnance disposal”. Images of violent police clampdowns on peaceful protests have agitated criticisms of the institution. This movement in the US is questioning whether a system of law enforcement with such firepower is actually needed

For many, skyrocketing police budgets have made American society feel less safe. These ballooning budgets have meant departments are expected to do “too much” with “every societal failure… put off for the cops to solve”. Moreover, aggressive policing is said to cause escalation and social disruption, inflaming the social problems and leading to legal transgressions.

What's the big picture effect?

Supporters argue that treating crime with increased spending on the police is like treating gangrene with a plaster. 

The movement is a broad church. Yet all believe police budgets should be reallocated to areas such as education, public health, housing and youth services. Radicals see this as the first step towards the total abolition of the police force, although such proponents remain a minority. 

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that, with two presidential nominees actively speaking against systematic upheaval in policing, the US will embrace profound change anytime soon. Yet the power of local government in the US means that at a state level at least, changes may be implemented. In Minneapolis, for example, the City Council has promised to disband its police department and replace it with “a holistic model of public safety” and others look poised to follow suit.

Shockwaves of this movement are likely to continue, as a more contextualist understanding of crime alters how the criminal justice system regards criminal responsibility. The result may be that challenges to traditional approaches to law enforcement grow in volume. The hope will be that these changes will engender not only a more effective policing policy but also a more equitable society.

Report written by George Maxwell

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