What does it mean to "defund the police"?
To defund the police means to take funds allocated for police forces and channel them into other public programs.
On a new Last Week Tonight segment, John Oliver, explained it clearly and concisely. "Defunding the police absolutely does not mean that we eliminate all cops and just succumb to the Purge," Oliver said. "Instead, it's about moving away from a narrow conception of public safety that relies on policing and punishment, and investing in a community's actual safety...like stable housing, mental health services, and community organisations."
More than ever, police are deployed against all kinds of social problems, from homelessness to domestic violence, to failing schools, which many argue they are "ill-equipped" for.
“People across the country are ready for a defunding framework,” Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and founder of Reform L.A. Jails explained to Time. “We’re ready to chip away at the line items inside of a police budget that really are nonsensical. Police should not be in charge of mental health crises. They should not be in charge of dealing with homelessness. They should not be in charge of ‘supporting’ people with drug dependency and addiction. Those are three line items which we can cut out of the police budget and then put that back into health care.”
Where would that money go?
It's estimated that the US spends over $100 billion each year on police. So, defunding the police would mean that money would otherwise be diverted to underfunded community programs, as well as be utilised by other services for emergency calls. "When we talk about defunding the police, what we're saying is 'invest in the resources that our communities need," Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza told NBC's Meet the Press.
Funds would instead be redirected into things like:
- Mental health support
- Social services
Would this mean more crime?
Many studies have shown that reducing police and increasing community programs can actually decrease crime.
In 2014 and 2015, when New York City police took a break from "active policing", meaning answering calls for low-level offences, the city actually saw a decline in major crime by 3% to 6% during the slowdown.
"Study after study shows that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are more successful in reducing crime than more police or prisons," explained the Centre for Popular Democracy in the Freedom To Thrive report.
What would it mean for Australia?
While many in Australia have been quick to label the Black Lives Matter protests an "American issue", our country faces its own battle with racism. Since the 1991 Royal Commission, there have been over 430 Aboriginal deaths in custody, per The Guardian's Death Inside analysis.
In Australia, there has been a lot of work already for abolishing prisons and advocating for a fair legal system. Debbie Kilroy, founder of the Sisters Inside program that advocates for and works alongside women in prison, wrote in the Griffith Review: "Prisons have ravaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities. In the last two decades, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls have been imprisoned at alarming rates across Australia. Pipelined from out-of-home 'care' to youth prisons to homelessness, poverty and adult prisons, women and girls are trapped in a cycle of government failure."
The protests have been making changes for Australia's political climate, too. Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said on June 9 he hopes to introduce a public consultation to establish a First Nations voice to parliament before the year’s end.
“We’re confident that the Australian people will be able to have their say on an Indigenous voice this year,” Wyatt told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We’re progressing work and every Australian who wants to have a say will be able to have a say. We know that policy works best when Indigenous Australians are at the centre of decision making.”