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)
Viral Photo of Crowded Reopened Georgia High School Sparks Concerns
- A viral photo showing students at North Paulding High School in Georgia walking in a crowded hallway without masks has sparked widespread concerns about schools reopening safely.
- According to BuzzFeed News, there is at least one football player that has tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as several staff members.
- Students who choose to not go to school can be suspended or expelled. Additionally, students who share content criticizing the school can be punished as well, and two have already been suspended for sharing photos of crowded halls, according to BuzzFeed.
- This school is just one of many in Georgia making headlines for seeing positive COVID-19 cases. In Cherokee County, there are four schools with confirmed cases that have forced dozens of students to quarantine within their first week back.
Viral Photo in North Paulding High School
When North Paulding High School in Georgia opened back up on Monday, kids were crammed in the hallway between classes, shoulder to shoulder, many without masks.
A photo that captured one of these crowded halls quickly went viral, prompting widespread outrage as it highlighted just one of several concerns many have about schools reopening throughout the state.
Paulding County Schools Superintendent Brian Otott addressed the photo in a letter early this week, claiming that it lacked larger context. Masks are not mandatory at North Paulding, as the school district said that the choice to wear a mask is a personal one, and claim enforcing a mandate is not realistic. Otott also said that students are not passing one another in the hallway to transmit COVID-19.
Health experts, however, do not believe this is true. With such close proximity and a lack of masks, transmission in situations like this is still possible. The school’s first day also comes as both new cases and deaths in the state of Georgia are in their peak. So far, the state has had a total of 186,395 cases and 3,899 deaths.
If that photo did not spark enough concerns, there is also already at least one confirmed coronavirus case on North Paulding’s football team. According to BuzzFeed News, footballers at the school are not the only ones at risk.
Teachers told the outlet that there are positive cases among the staff, including an employee who came into contact with most teachers while they were symptomatic. Still, the school will not confirm cases among employees for privacy reasons.
“That was exactly one week ago, so we are all waiting to see who gets sick next week,” one teacher told BuzzFeed.
Most who are nervous about attending school are left with essentially no other option than to face their fears and risk infection. Virtual learning was an option for students at North Paulding, but the limited slots filled up quickly. On top of this, BuzzFeed News learned from a set of parents who wanted to keep their son home upon seeing the photo, that any student who chooses to not attend school could face suspension or expulsion.
On top of this, the school made an announcement warning students that anyone who shared negative content about the school online would face disciplinary action. According to BuzzFeed News, two students have already been suspended for sharing now-viral photos of crowded halls.
North Paulding is not the only school in the state making headlines. In Cherokee County, a second grader tested positive for the virus on the first day of school. Now, their class of 20 students will be quarantining for 14 days.
On Wednesday, officials announced that three additional schools in the county had positive cases. Those cases involved a first grader, eighth grader, and Kindergarten teacher. Several students and staff at each of these schools now must undergo a two week quarantine as well.
Statewide, school officials are concerned about what the school year will look like.
“So long as COVID-19 runs rampant, there will be too many bodies in close quarters for us to co-exist in a traditional setting,” Dooly County Schools Superintendent Craig Lockhart telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are not ready to return to in-person schooling and be highly confident that we can protect employees and students.”
But on the other side of this, there are parents and students eager to get back to in person classes, either because they trust their school district to handle things well, or because online learning at home just was not working well for them.
“There is a really strong case for trying to reopen schools because there are so many benefits, both for children, not only academic benefits but health and social-emotional health, and also for families, many of whom are trying to get back to work to restart the economy,” Charlene Wong, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Duke School of Medicine also told the AJC.
Can Kids Spread the Virus?
Still, Wong believes that safety opening schools is complex and requires a multitude of safety measures. The risk is especially high because experts are still in the early stages of learning what role children play in spreading and getting this virus, especially in a crowded space like a school. Currently, most studies and research have not focused on children, so there is not enough data to prove anything just yet, despite the widespread belief that children are less likely to get and transmit the virus.
In fact, one case out of Georgia proves that idea wrong. One summer camp in Georgia was forced to close after there were 260 coronavirus cases on site, the majority of which came from people aged 17 and younger.
Another study done in South Korea concluded that while children nine and under do not transmit the virus as frequently as adults, the risk of them doing so still exists. That study also claims that people between the ages 10 and 19 actually spread COVID-19 at the same rate as adults.
See what others are saying: (BuzzFeed News) (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Washington Post)
NJ Woman Charged for Assaulting Staples Customer Who Asked Her to Correctly Wear a Mask
- New Jersey Police have charged 25-year-old Terri Thomas with second-degree aggravated assault for violently tossing a woman with a cane to the ground at a Staples store last Wednesday.
- Thomas attacked 54-year-old Margot Kagan for telling her to wear her face mask properly.
- Kagan, who police say had a liver transplant four months ago, was hospitalized and is recovering from a leg injury that required surgery as a result of the incident.
Police in New Jersey said Tuesday that they arrested and charged a woman caught on surveillance video attacking a fellow Staples customer who told her to correctly wear her mask.
The dispute happened inside a Hackensack Staples store last Wednesday when 54-year-old Margot Kagan was using the copy machine. Kagan, who police said had a liver transplant four months ago, noticed 25-year-old Terri Thomas walk by with her mask below her mouth.
Kagan told a local news station that she told Thomas, “You should really put a mask on,” and warned her that she was endangering everyone. However, the remarks made Thomas angry she reportedly began yelling.
The surveillance footage shows Thomas walking towards Kagan, who lifts her cane to keep Thomas away. Thomas then reaches for the cane and violently tosses Kagan to the ground.
Thomas walks out of view for a few seconds and when she returns, Kagan sticks her leg out to trip Thomas, but Thomas ultimately walks away unharmed and leaves the store.
Injuries and Charges
Kagan was hospitalized after the attack and police said she left with a fractured left tibia that required surgery. However, Kagan later told ABC 7 she suffered a broken knee and required a steel plate to be put in. She also claims she’s been told by doctors that she won’t be able to put weight on her leg for seven to 10 weeks.
As far as Thomas, police have charged her with second-degree aggravated assault and she was released on a summons pending a court appearance on August 24. In New Jersey, the charge is punishable by 5-10 years in jail, and fines as high as $150,000.
Hackensack police are encouraging anyone who witnessed the crime or have any information to reach out to them.
Aurora Police Apologize for Drawing Weapons on Black Family in Mistaken Stop
- Police drew guns on a Black family in Aurora, Colorado on Sunday who they believed were in a stolen vehicle, ordering the group out of the car and facedown down on the ground.
- The passengers were girls between the ages of 6 and 17 and video shows them sobbing in fear during the incident, with at least two minors in handcuffs.
- The adult female driver was able to confirm that the car was not stolen and police explained that the car had the same plate information as a car reported stolen in a different state. They also blamed the mixup on the fact that the family’s car was reported stolen earlier this year, even though Aurora police returned it back to them a day later.
- The city’s new police chief apologized and offered them therapy resources. She also said officers followed protocol but should be allowed to use discretion to deviate in situations like this and has ordered her team to look at new training practices.
Police in Aurora, Colorado apologized Monday for drawing weapons on a Black family after mistaking their car for another stolen vehicle.
On Sunday, August 2, Brittney Gilliam decided to take her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister, and 14 and 17-year-old nieces out to get their nails done. Gilliam told CNN that her niece had just gotten back in the car after looking to see if the nail salon they wanted to go to was open. At this point, she and the girls were parked in a parking lot with the car turned off.
That’s when Aurora police pulled up behind the vehicle with guns drawn. Then, police allegedly yelled at the group to put their hands out of the window and get out of the car.
She said the family exited the vehicle and were told to lay face down on the ground. At that time, police handcuffed Gilliam, her 12-year-old sister, and 17-year-old niece. Gilliam claims that police would not explain why she was pulled over until she was handcuffed. Then, they pulled her away to verify her claim that the car was not stolen as the children remained on the ground.
A bystander named Jennifer Wurtz began recorded the incident after the family was handcuffed. The footage is about 12 and a half minutes long, but a shorter minute in a half-second clip went viral on Twitter. That clip shows the minors facedown on the floor sobbing as police try to keep onlookers away.
Eventually, police sit the children up and in the longer video, Wurtz can be heard pressing the officers about why they had drawn guns on children.
Police repeatedly asked her to stop interfering, however, they did say she had the right to film. Wurtz stopped pointing the phone towards the scene, but continued to criticize the stop and asked for the officers’ names.
As frustration from onlookers grew, one officer explained that this was a “high-risk stop” and that police were following procedure.
The onlookers were still angry about the policy being used against children and became angrier after learning that the car was in fact, not stolen.
What Caused the Confusion?
As far as what the mixup actually was, Gilliam explained that she had reported her car stolen in February, but that case was cleared up. In fact, her attorney told CNN that when her vehicle was stolen, it was actually returned to her the next day by Aurora police.
In a statement late Monday, Intern Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said that after the stop, police realized the car Gilliam was driving was not stolen. Instead, another vehicle with the same plate information but from a different state had been. The Associated Press reported that the vehicle was a motorcycle from Montana.
In her statement, Wilson said “The confusion may have been due, in part, to the fact that the stopped car was reported stolen. After realizing the mistake, officers immediately unhandcuffed everyone involved, explained what happened and apologized.”
“I have called (Gilliam’s) family to apologize and to offer any help we can provide, especially for the children who may have been traumatized by yesterday’s events,” she continued. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”
Outrage and Apology
Still, that did little to put the community at ease, especially since the incident comes amid widespread frustration over how Black people are treated by police. Frustrations are especially high in Aurora, where police have faced security for the 2019 death of Elijah McClain. McClain was an unarmed Black man who was stopped by officers as he walked home after he was reported as a suspicious person in a ski mask.
During the confrontation, officers placed him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with ketamine to sedate him. He then suffered a heart attack in the ambulance and was declared brain dead days later before being taken off life support.
Just last month, two officers were fired for reenacting the chokehold in a photo near the memorial site for Elijah McClain A third officer was fired for not alerting supervisors about the photo while a fourth resigned before a disciplinary hearing about the incident.
So this latest incident piled on the existing outrage against the local department and police policies in general. And many, including Gilliam, felt that the stolen car mixup did not justify how the young girls were treated.
“That’s police brutality,” she told KUSA. “There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way. … You could have even told them, ‘Step off to the side let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’ ”
In her statement, Chief Wilson confirmed that a suspect in a stolen vehicle is a high-risk stop, and said officers followed procedures they are trained to carry out. However, she added that the department, “must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves.”
Wilson added that an internal investigation into this incident has been opened and said she had directed her team to look at new practices and training. Her promises to reexamine department practices are especially significant because that same Monday night, Aurora’s city council voted to make Wilson the city’s permanent police chief.