Defunding the Police- A Tool for Abolition
In the previous six months, the slogan “defund the police” has buzzed around every corner of the land. Becoming much more prevalent with the surge of BLM protests across the country, many are left with an inconsistent or jaded definition of what defunding the police means or what it hopes to do.
The general idea of defunding is to divest funds from police and reallocate them to tackle solutions for other areas of community like mental health, education, homelessness, etc. What should be clear is that police defunding at its core is a radical concept and practice that also requires tackling the unjust economic and social relations we exist in
Police and prison abolitionists are concerned with the destruction of policing and surveillance. In the US, these concepts are historically rooted in the oppression of the poor and people of color. Abolition includes the destruction of prisons, jails, the military — any and all institutions that uphold policing and surveillance on marginalized communities. Rather than seeing these punitive measures as solutions for every problem in society, abolitionists hope to build upon intra-communal resilience and regenerate systems of care for all community members.
Much of the confusion around what defunding means comes from both the right and the left. Neoliberal co-optation has twisted it to mean funding alternative various police reform methods like diversity training, body cameras, community police boards, etc. An abolitionist understands that police reform has and does not work — the police can NOT be reformed. What abolitionists hope to do with divestment is the reallocation of funds and power. Abolitionists use divestment as a tool to decrease the reach of police and the Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC). The divestment of funds goes towards the implementation of alternative methods of community care. While such is occurring, abolitionists work towards the decriminalization of areas like drug use, mental health, homelessness, and sex work. Not only to keep vulnerable communities safe, but to destroy the viewpoint that police and prison is the solution for these areas. This work continues until police and prisons no longer serve a purpose and can be superseded by the community systems.
An abolitionist framework is transformative and incredibly imaginative, as abolition itself can take many different forms. Organizations like Critical Resistance and Anti-Police Terror Project are tackling prison abolition and taking police out of Oakland schools. With the idea of care at its center, abolition truly challenges what “rehabilitation” means if it is currently occurring in jails and prisons across the nation. Divestment is only one facet in the larger network of abolition — but it is absolutely necessary.