Photo by Matt York for the Associated Press
- Nine of the 13 members on the Minneapolis City Council pledged to dismantle the police department and make a new system for public safety.
- The decision, made by a veto-proof majority, marks the most significant action to address policing that any city has taken since the killing of George Floyd sparked widespread calls to defund or abolish the police.
- While these ideas are not new, the fact that they have become more mainstream is. Still, there are many misconceptions about what that means in practice.
The Racial History Behind Policing
A veto-proof majority Minneapolis City Council members pledged Sunday to disband the city’s police department and replace it with a new public safety system.
The move comes amid mounting calls to change police forces nationwide following the killing of George Floyd. While Minneapolis, where the incident took place, has faced the most pressure, protestors and activists all over America have been demanding that city governments defund or abolish the police.
When most people hear “defund” or “abolish” the police, they think it means lawlessness, but that is not true.
“For most proponents, ‘defunding the police’ does not mean zeroing out budgets for public safety, and police abolition does not mean that police will disappear overnight — or perhaps ever,” Christy Lopez, a professor at Georgetown Law School and a co-director of the school’s Innovative Policing Program, explained in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
So what does it mean? In order to understand the arguments that underpin the calls for defunding or abolishing the police, some brief historical context is needed.
Defunding the police and abolishing the police are two different ideas, but they both rely on the same general concept: Redefining what we mean when we say “public safety,” and reimagining what that looks like in practice. But it also goes beyond that.
As Philip McHarris, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Yale and lead research and policy associate at the Community Resource Hub for Safety and Accountability told CNN, the practice also requires us to get rid of the idea that police are meant to protect communities, as many black Americans and others do not feel protected by the police.
That is in large part because of the historical roots of policing and law enforcement in the U.S.
Law enforcement in the South started as slave patrol— a group of vigilantes hired to capture slaves that escaped.
When slavery was abolished, the police were used to enforced Jim Crow laws. Now, police are far more likely to use force against black people, and black people are also disproportionately arrested and sentenced.
It is that racist history, proponents of defunding or abolishing police argue, that has contributed to the racial disparities we see in policing today and that normal reforms cannot address.
“American police departments were originally created to dominate and criminalize communities of color and poor white workers, a job they continue doing to this day,” the Minneapolis-based initiative MPD150 explains in a fact sheet on abolition. “The list has grown even longer: LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, activists– so many of us are attacked by cops on a daily basis.”
So what would defunding or abolishing the police look like in practice?
Defunding the Police in Practice
As noted, defunding and abolishing are different, but very similar ideas. In fact, many view defunding as a step towards abolishing.
In the simplest terms, defunding the police means taking some of the funding from police departments and investing that money into communities— specifically in marginalized communities where the majority of the policing occurs.
In many major cities, the police budget is the largest single expenditure, and according to the Urban Institute, state and local governments spent $115 billion on policing in 2017 alone.
On the community level, defunding the police means investing in mental health services, housing, hospitals, schools, and food— “all of the things we know increase safety,” according to McHarris.
The idea here is that when we invest in communities, those communities will become safer, and there will be less of a need for the police anyway.
That sentiment has also been echoed by Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, who recently said in an interview with WBUR that defunding law enforcement “means that we are reducing the ability for law enforcement to have resources that harm our communities.”
“It’s about reinvesting those dollars into black communities, communities that have been deeply divested from,” she added.
But that is just one element of it. The other part is how we address occurrences where police are normally called, and that will not just go away even when communities are supported.
As Lopez explains, we have come to have an overreliance on the police to deal with everything from homelessness to domestic disputes.“We turn to the police in situations where years of experience and common sense tell us that their involvement is unnecessary, and can make things worse,” she writes.
So defunding the police also means shrinking their responsibilities and putting that money into other areas that are more equipped to deal with those specific needs. That means investing more in social and mental health providers, expanding community mediation and violence interruption programs, and providing more training to help de-escalate situations.
There are already some examples of this. For instance, one of the programs that the Council Members in Minneapolis have reportedly cited is one in Eugene, Oregon called Cahoots.
Cahoots is a nonprofit crisis intervention program, and according to its program coordinator, Cahoots has, “responded to more than 24,000 calls for service last year — about 20 percent of the area’s 911 calls — on a budget of about $2 million, probably far less than what it would cost the Police Department to do the work.”
Abolishing the Police in Practice
Abolishing, on the other hand, takes defunding a step further, and calls for getting rid of the police altogether— at least eventually.
MPD150, which has become one of the main resources for resources concerning abolition, flushes out the idea really well in its fact sheet.
“Police abolition work is not about snapping our fingers and instantly defunding every department in the world,” it explains. “Rather, we’re talking about a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention.”
“The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best-equipped to deal with those crises,” the fact sheet continues.
“Rather than strangers armed with guns, who very likely do not live in the neighborhoods they’re patrolling, we want to create space for more mental health service providers, social workers, victim/survivor advocates, religious leaders, neighbors and friends– all of the people who really make up the fabric of a community– to look out for one another.”
Instead of keeping police in some form, those who favor abolition argue that police would slowly be phased out entirely. Instead of just re-imagining and re-orienting the role the police play in public safety, abolishing the police calls for getting rid of that role, full stop.
In other words, defunding and abolition involve the same two basic principles: moving funding from the police to the community and shrinking the responsibilities of police, and reallocating them to others who might be better suited to deal with certain situations.
The main difference is that defunding is more of a spectrum. ‘Defunding’ the police could include cutting just 1% of the police budget, or it could involve cutting 95% of the police budget, and anything else in between.
The world of defunding is one where it is still possible that the police force exists, but just at a more limited capacity. But for abolition, that is just a first step in a much longer process that eventually results in the police as we know it being eliminated and entirely replaced with an alternative public safety system.
While the Minneapolis City Council decision certainly represents the largest attempt to dismantle the police, other cities have also recently begun to take at least some action.
For example, on Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would move some funding from NYPD to youth initiatives and social services, though he did not provide details.
Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti promised to cut as much as $150 million that was part of a proposed police budget increase. That, however, is only a tiny fraction of the $1.86 billion proposal, and as a result many felt it falls short.
But on the other side, Garcetti’s proposal received significant backlash from police.
In a statement, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union for rank-and-file officers, said that the budget cuts would be the “quickest way to make our neighborhoods more dangerous.”
“Cutting the LAPD budget means longer responses to 911 emergency calls, officers calling for back-up won’t get it, and rape, murder and assault investigations won’t occur or will take forever to initiate, let alone complete,” it added.
“At this time, with violent crime increasing, a global pandemic and nearly a week’s worth of violence, arson, and looting, ‘defunding’ the LAPD is the most irresponsible thing anyone can propose.”
So, while it might feel like we’re far out from any large scale substantive change, a lot of activists say even the discussions that are being had right now represent an incredibly significant shift in the narrative surrounding the police.
“This is massive,” Cullors told the New York Times. “This is the first time we are seeing, in our country’s history, a conversation about defunding, and some people having a conversation about abolishing the police and prison state. This must be what it felt like when people were talking about abolishing slavery.”
See what others are saying: (CNN) (MPR News) (The New York Times)
Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”
- Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
- The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot.
- So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.
Florida Requires Proof of Residency
Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.
Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it.
According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.
Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers.
Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited
Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north.
“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)
Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”
- Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
- Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
- Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.
Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017.
Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony.
“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”
Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.
“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”
What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”
Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing.
“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”
“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”
Nation Impressed by Gorman
“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”
Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration.
Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation.
Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)
SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section
- The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June.
- The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
- Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary.
- It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.
College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay
College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.
Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”
The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary.
While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S.
Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.
With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.
The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test
In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.
In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.
According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.
For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April.