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George Floyd protests: what does ‘Defund the police’ mean?

Protests continued in many parts of the world over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd. And some feel that police departments need reforming.

George Floyd protests: what does ‘Defund the police’ mean?

Saturday saw the ninth day of worldwide protests as people took to the streets to vent their anger at the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The protests are set to continue tomorrow, across the States and in the UK with at least nine ‘Black Lives Matter’ events scheduled in London, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Derby and Norwich.

Many of the protests in the United States have been accompanied by the rally cry, ‘Defund the police’. The slogan has appeared all over social media this week but actually the movement goes back further than George Floyd’s killing. Some want the police department reformed, for officers to receive proper training, to be taught about racism and inequality while others think it is possible to do away with the police force altogether.

Protesters in Vienna, Austria
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Protesters in Vienna, AustriaMartin JuenGetty Images

Need to address underlying social issues

Activists says that cutting the budget spent on policing would enable the government to plough those funds into other causes and help with social issues such as homelessness, mental health issues and drug addiction. In some states, the budget set aside for policing is over a third of the overall funding

Professor Alex Vitale, a lecturer at Brooklyn College explains the movement’s aims in his book, The End of Policing. He explained where he thinks it has all gone wrong, “The kinds of reform that they are embracing just aren’t capable of fixing the problem. They attempted a whole set of procedural justice reforms that were recommended by President Obama’s task force on 21st Century policing. We have two problems – one if that we have a problem of explicit racism in American policing and while all officers aren’t racist, there are cleat tendencies towards this problem. More importantly, we have a problem of structural racism in American policing – and that is the decisions by elected officials to turn the problems of black communities into policing problems. Instead of trying to turn police officers into social workers, maybe we should just hire social workers”.

LAPD Commander Cory Palka and a protester
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LAPD Commander Cory Palka and a protesterETIENNE LAURENTEFE

Jennifer Epps-Addison, Network President and Co-Executive Director at the Center for Popular Democracy says the situation came to a head with George Floyd’s killing. “Over the last 30 years, at both the national and local levels, governments have dramatically increased their spending on criminalisation, policing, and mass incarceration while drastically cutting investments in basic infrastructure and slowing investment in social safety net programs,” she explained. “Making our communities safer means providing a living wage, increasing access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunities, and stable housing, not additional investments in police or prisons”.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has hinted that he plans to cut $150 million from the LAPD’s $3 billion budget and redirect those funds to community programmes, a focus on youth employment, health initiatives and “peace centers” to heal trauma, while those who have suffered discrimination will be able to claim for damages.

Garcetti said money will be taken from other areas of the state’s budget and redirected “into health, to put it into hope, to put it into housing and to put it into healing.” However, last week he admitted that the LAPD are "already underfunded".

"The public wants to feel safe"

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she is against the idea of reducing the police department budget. I don't think that's an appropriate action at this time. I think that the people in our neighbourhoods want and have been begging for more police support,” she said. “In light of what's happened over the last couple days, it would be irresponsible for me to even entertain any idea that we would cut back on our public safety resources at this time”.