Defund the Police? Well, We’ve Defunded Everything Else

Ok, so #NotAllPrograms and #NotInAllLocalMuncipalities. Still, when teachers have to go on statewide strikes to get better wages and living conditions, there’s the capacity to cut things, when we want to do so. After all, we managed to massively slash higher public education, which, at one point, would have been unthinkable, so let’s not dismiss it out of hand (oddly enough, this isn’t seen as radical). Consider this:


As the authors note (boldface mine):

Taken together, the two lines trace a dramatic shift in national priorities. We funneled money away from poverty prevention to beef up our response to one of poverty’s biggest consequences: crime. We now treat the symptoms rather than the underlying disease.

As a result, many major cities spend as much as 40 percent of their municipal budgets on policing, leaving a dwindling pool of resources for poverty prevention, infrastructure and everything else. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated this dynamic: Cities facing steep revenue declines are trying to decide which services to cut to remain solvent, and mayors are often hesitant to cut law and order spending.

There’s also a problem with the word ‘reform.’ Many people are calling for reform, instead of abolition or defunding. Unfortunately, there’s reform and then there’s ‘reform’: guess which version Democratic-controlled governments have favored? The term reform not only has been watered down, but abused. Unfortunately, we don’t have a word that means ‘massively cut and reallocate much of the funding to social services and other more productive uses that would lower crime.’ Defunding isn’t a great word, but is sort of close. An alternative might be demilitarize. That is, stop thinking of policing being done by a police force, and, instead, by a police service. Much of the work that service would do would not involve force (or the threat of force), and the armed component of policing could be cut dramatically.

That said, the calls for abolition aren’t going anywhere. If D.C. is any indication, I can’t see middle-aged and elderly black voters, a core constituency of the Democratic Party, wanting to entirely get rid of the police, and they vote. But reallocating much of the funding, especially if some of that funding goes towards more investigative/regulatory purposes, such as preventing wage theft and dangerous working conditions, and preventative measures (e.g., housing, lead abatement, jobs, etc.)? Sure, I can see that happening.

Since municipalities and states aren’t currency issuers, they’ll either have to raise taxes or cut something–and in some places, cutting police departments might be politically acceptable thing to cut. For now, anyway.

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