First Steps Toward #DefundThePolice

Solutions Journalism Network

By Mark Obbie, Solutions Specialist

Protests erupted nationwide after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May 2020. Within days, pent-up anger over the persistence of police misconduct (despite many like-minded protests over the years) and the heavy-handed police presence at the protests introduced a new phrase to the public: “defund the police.”

The concept of defunding is not new. For years, policing policy has coalesced around three camps: “back the blue” law enforcement supporters; reform advocates lobbying for better systems of policing to win back the trust of vulnerable communities; and critics of incremental progress, often known as police abolitionists. Both “abolition” and “defunding” over-simplify the actual goals of the movement: rethinking the fundamental role of police by shrinking their footprint, strengthening democratic controls over police accountability, and granting communities the power to oversee changes in safety and justice within their own borders.

Camden, New Jersey remains the most notable example of a city that dismantled and reinvented a deeply troubled police force. But as detractors pointed out, replacing one police force with another failed to solve the underlying problems; police budget cuts have also foundered when detached from deeper reforms, as The Marshall Project found in Memphis and Chicago.

So, what have journalists found that works? This collection spotlights responses that illustrate defunding-style ideas through alternatives to policing and police accountability measures.

Student experience and critical analysis level: intermediate/advanced

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