After the George Floyd murder in May 2020, many Black Americans and progressives felt that the way to stop the rise in extrajudicial murder at the hands of police officers was to remove much of their funding. “Defund the Police” became the rallying cry of progressives on social media, and it truly gave the right a brand-new straw man argument.
In the eyes of right-wing politicians, “defund the police” is equivalent to abolishing police forces across the country. Their argument against defunding the police is, “without the police, who will you call when you’re in trouble?” But even this fallacy has been addressed over and over again.
The purpose of “Defund the Police” isn’t to dissolve any sort of public safety in service of citizens but to reallocate the massive amounts of money being divested in police forces toward more helpful programs. Police funding in larger cities takes up the brunt of those cities’ budgets. A study of 2020 fiscal numbers found that in Chicago, for example, there is one police officer for every 183 citizens, but funding for the police is approximately 37% of the city’s budget.
Meanwhile, this article from 2015 found that Chicago police killed 70 people over a five-year period, more than any other major metropolitan city. Most people’s knee-jerk reaction to that statistic would be, “What were they doing that the police had to kill them?” And in some of those cases, that thinking may be correct; usually police only kill those who are in the act of committing a crime. However, the article then goes on to quote a former Baltimore police officer named Peter Moskos who says, “Just because it was justified doesn’t mean it was necessary. Perhaps, it could have been prevented by better training or different tactics.”
There are, of course, the other instances that we know of where the police murdered people for petty crimes, or for no crime at all. George Floyd was killed by police because he was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill. Philando Castille was shot seven times during a traffic stop after he told the police officer he was carrying a legally-licensed handgun. Castille was pulled over because, as the officer claimed, “he looked like the suspect in a robbery.” Breonna Taylor was asleep in her home when officers executed a no-knock warrant on her home under suspicion of drugs. Taylor’s boyfriend, who had just woken up to the ruckus and thought their home was being invaded, fired upon the incoming officers, the police fired a total of 32 shots, killing Taylor in her bed.
None of these murders were justified. None of the supposed crimes of these people were proven. Even if they were proven guilty of the crimes they were accused of, none of them were capital crimes.
“Defund the Police” may seem like a scary proposition given the way the right tries to demonize it, but the myths that are perpetuated about the movement are just that: myths. It’s estimated that mental health calls and welfare checks make up 20% of the calls police get, situations in which the police are not properly trained to handle. By diverting some of the funding police receive to a mental health response unit, not only do the people in crisis get adequate help when they need it, but the police receive fewer calls, leaving them to do what they are trained to do: investigate and solve crimes.