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Minneapolis Moves to Defund the Police. Here’s What That Means

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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 altogetherat 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.

Other Examples

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)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.


One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down

After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.

The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.

Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.

A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.

The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.

In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.

The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.

A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.

Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye

“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.

Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.

Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.

“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.

When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.

“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”

On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.

On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.

Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.


One Million Dead

The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.

Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.

The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.

By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.

The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.

The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.

The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.

People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.

Fifteen Million Dead

On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.

Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.

Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.

The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.

“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.

Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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