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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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At Least 130,000 Covid-19 Deaths Were Avoidable, Columbia Study Finds

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  • A report from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University estimates that between 130,000 and 210,000 coronavirus deaths were avoidable in the United States.
  • While the U.S. accounts for just 4% of the global population, the country makes up 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and fatalities. The country’s proportional death rate is twice as high as Canada’s and 50 times higher than Japan’s.
  • The report largely blamed the Trump administration for ignoring warning signs and scientists, arguing that he has been downplaying the issue, peddling misinformation, and turning the pandemic into a political game.
  • It also criticized the Trump administration and other federal leaders for not responding quickly enough in terms of testing and social distancing measures, which could have saved lives if implemented sooner.

Preventable Deaths in the U.S. 

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University released a report on Wednesday estimating that at somewhere between 130,000 and 210,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States were avoidable. 

At the time the report was made, the county had lost 217,000 thousand lives to the virus. As of Thursday morning, the U.S. death toll stands at 222,000. While the U.S. accounts for just 4% of the global population, the country makes up 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and fatalities. 

According to the report, the U.S. has the ninth highest proportional death rate in the world behind Peru, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, and Mexico. The country’s proportional death rate is twice as high as Canada’s and 50 times higher than Japan’s.

The report estimated how many deaths may have been preventable by seeing what the U.S. death toll may have been if it had mirrored the strategies of more proactive and high-income countries.

For example, it says that if the U.S. had followed policies similar to those in Canada, the country may have seen just 85,192 fatalities, making more than 132,500 American deaths “avoidable.” If the States had mirrored Germany the death toll may have been 38,457, leaving 179,260 avoidable losses. If the U.S. modeled after South Korea’s robust intervention, Americans may have seen around 2,799 deaths, leaving nearly 215,000 deaths avoidable.

The researchers do acknowledge that other various factors could contribute to a country having a higher mortality rate, including demographics, distribution of population, health risk factors like obesity, and health care access in general. Still they do not believe this would explain the magnitude of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. According to the report, even if the U.S. had implemented an “averaged” response, the virus may have only claimed between 38,000 to 85,000 lives, meaning that at least 130,000 COVID-19 deaths might have been avoidable.

Failures of the Trump Administration

Many, including the researchers behind this report, largely blamed state and federal governments as well as President Donald Trump’s Administration for the catastrophic death toll in the nation. Criticism has come from leaders all over, including former president Barack Obama. During a speech on Thursday, Obama said that he handed Trump’s White House a “pandemic playbook” that got thrown out the window.

“Other countries are still struggling with the pandemic but they’re not doing as bad as we are because they’ve got a government that’s actually been paying attention,” Obama added. “And that means lives lost. And that means an economy that doesn’t work. And just yesterday, when asked if he’d do anything differently, Trump said, ‘Not much.’ Really? Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive?” 

Because the U.S. has been repeatedly condemned for its reckless mishandling of the virus, the idea that thousands of deaths could have been prevented is not surprising. Still, seeing the staggering numbers and lives that did not need to be taken is a sobering reminder of the tragedy the country is currently facing. The report said this tragedy falls on Trump’s hands and specifically criticized the president for ignoring science and instead spreading misinformation and turning the pandemic into a political game. 

“Many nations facing the pandemic crisis have put politics aside and orchestrated a response led by public health experts and global coordination,” the report stated. 

“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has shown hostility to much of the critical guidance and recommendations put forth by its own health agencies, with the President at times misleading the public on the scope of the threat, attempting to ‘downplay’ the extent of the crisis, and advocating for unproven therapeutical or unsafe treatments.”

A Delayed Response From the U.S.

Among the many oversights, the report claimed the administration was responsible for was a lack of testing. From the start of the pandemic, the U.S. was far behind on testing efforts, which are essential in fighting a pandemic. Both the U.S. and South Korea had their first confirmed cases on the same day. South Korea began rapid widespread testing and had conducted 250,000 by March 16. At this time in the United States, Trump was still peddling the idea that the virus was like a flu and might fade away. 

The report also noted that a lack of mask mandates and delayed responses in other areas like social distancing likely contributed to the spread of the coronavirus. If major cities in the country had introduced social distancing measures just one or two weeks earlier, it is estimated that 62% of cases and 55% of deaths could have been avoided. 

Deaths and case counts are not the only things that could have been avoided. The report noted that in New York State alone 325,000 children have been pushed to poverty because of the pandemic and 4,200 children have lost a parent to COVID-19. If policies had been implemented earlier, there could be at least 1.5 million less people grieving across the country right now. 

“The U.S. should have – and could have – done better to protect the nation, and particularly its most vulnerable populations, from a threat that was identified and recognized early in 2020,” the report said in its conclusion.

“The weight of this enormous failure ultimately falls to the leadership at the White House – and among a number of state governments – which consistently undercut the efforts of top officials at the CDC and HHS…a pandemic is not a time for a decentralized and combative national response.”

See what others are saying: (Forbes) (Axios) (CNN)

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Purdue Pharma Agrees To Plead Guilty To 3 Opioid-Related Charges in $8B Settlement, But Don’t Expect Them To Pay the Full Amount

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  • As part of a more than $8 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of violating anti-kickback, or bribery, laws.
  • Because Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year, that full figure likely won’t be collected by the government.
  • Under the settlement, which will need approval in bankruptcy court, Purdue would become a public benefit corporation that is controlled by the government, with revenue from opioid sales being used to fund treatment options and programs.
  • A number of state attorneys generals and Democratic lawmakers have said the settlement does not hold Purdue or its owners fully accountable and could derail thousands of other cases against the company.
  • They have also argued that the government should “avoid having special ties to an opioid company… that caused a national crisis.”

Purdue to Plead Guilty to 3 Criminal Charges

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Purdue Pharma has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges related to fueling the country’s opioid epidemic. 

Notably, those guilty pleas come as part of a massive settlement worth more than $8 billion, though Purdue will likely only pay a fraction of that amount to the government.

Purdue is the manufacturer of oxycontin, which is a powerful and addictive painkiller that’s believed to have driven the opioid crisis. Since 2000, opioid addiction and overdoses have been linked to more than 470,000 deaths. 

As part of the settlement, Purdue will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. There, it will admit that it lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration by claiming that it had maintained an effective program to avoid opioid misuse. It will also admit to reporting misleading information to the DEA in order to increase its manufacturing quotas.

While Purdue originally told the DEA that it had “robust controls” to avoid opioid misuse, according to the Justice Department, it had “disregard[ed] red flags their own systems were sending up.”

Along with that guilty plea, Purdue will also plead guilty to two anti-kickback, or bribery, related charges. In one charge, it will admit to violating federal law by paying doctors to write more opioid prescriptions. In the other, it will admit to using electronic health records software to increase opioid prescriptions.

According to a copy of the plea deal obtained by the Associated Press, Purdue “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the distribution of opioids from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.”

The $8 billion in settlements will be split several different ways.

In one deal, the Sackler family — which owns Purdue — will pay $225 million to resolve civil fines. 

As part of the main deal, another $225 million will go directly to the federal government in a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture; however, the government is actually expected to forego the rest of that figure.

In addition to that, $2.8 billion will go to resolving Purdue’s civil liability. Another $3.54 billion will go to criminal fines, but because Purdue filed bankruptcy last year, these figures also likely won’t be fully collected — largely because the government will now have to compete with other claims against Purdue in bankruptcy court.”

Purdue Will Become a “Public Benefit Company”

Since Purdue is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, a bankruptcy court will also need to approve the settlement.

“The agreed resolution, if approved by the courts, will require that the company be dissolved and no longer exist in its present form,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said. 

However, that doesn’t mean that Purdue’s fully gone or that it will even stop making oxycontin. In fact, as part of this settlement, the Sacklers would relinquish ownership of Purdue, and it would then transform into what’s known as a public benefit company.

Essentially, that means it would be run by the government. Under that setup, money from limited oxycontin sales, as well as from sales of several overdose-reversing medications, would be pumped back into treatment initiatives and other drug programs aimed at combating the opioid crisis.

For its part, the Justice Department has endorsed this model. 

Should Purdue Be Punished More?

There has been strong opposition to this deal, mainly from state attorneys general and Democratic members of Congress who say it doesn’t go far enough.

Those critics argue that the settlements don’t hold Purdue or the Sackler family fully accountable, especially the Sacklers since — unlike Purdue — they didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing.

“[W]hile our country continues to recover from the pain and destruction left by the Sacklers’ greed,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “this family has attempted to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis. Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.”

“If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law,” A coalition of 38 Democratic members of Congress said in a statement to Attorney General Bill Barr last week.

While this settlement doesn’t include any convictions against the Sacklers specifically, as the Justice Department noted, it also doesn’t release them from criminal liability and a separate criminal investigation is ongoing. 

Still, last week, 25 state attorneys general asked Barr not to make a deal that includes converting Purdue into a public benefit company, urging the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company, conflicts of interest, or mixed motives in an industry that caused a national crisis.” 

Part of their concern is that the government would essentially run this new company while also holding the original one accountable. Those attorneys general instead argued that Purdue should be run privately but with government oversight. 

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times) (Fox Business)

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Parents of 545 Children Separated at U.S. Border Still Can’t Be Found

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  • A Tuesday filing update from the ACLU and Department of Justice revealed that a Steering Committee in charge of reuniting families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border has not been able to find parents of 545 separated children. 
  • Efforts to reach these parents via telephone have been unsuccessful and those involved are not hopeful that will change. Two-thirds of these parents are believed to be in their respective countries of origin.
  • So far, parents for 485 kids have been reached.
  • Finding these parents is an already complicated process made even more strenuous by the coronavirus pandemic. On-the-ground searches were suspended because of COVID-19 but have now picked up in limited capacity.

Parents of 545 Children Remain Unfound

A Tuesday court filing from the U.S. Department of Justice and American Civil Liberties Union revealed that the parents of 545 children who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have not been found or contacted.

Two thirds of those parents are expected to be in their respective country of origin. While there have been efforts to reach these families via phone, they have not been successful. Other efforts to reach these parents are in the works. 

Thousands of families were separated in 2018 under President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy, but a federal judge ordered that those families should be reunited. Soon after, many were, but in reality many more families had actually been separated. It was later revealed that the Trump Administration had been separating families back in 2017 under a pilot program. A court order reuniting those families was not issued until last year. 

A Steering Committee, of which the ACLU and other organizations are members, is now searching for these parents. According to the filing, the government provided a list of 1,556 children. The current focus on reaching children whose membership in this case is not contested and who have available contact information for a sponsor or parent. The Steering Committee has attempted to reach the families of all 1,030 children who fit that bill, and have successfully reached the parents, or their attorneys, for 485 kids. 

“There is so much more work to be done to find these families, Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, told NBC News, which broke the story.

“People ask when we will find all of these families, and sadly, I can’t give an answer. I just don’t know,” he continued. “But we will not stop looking until we have found every one of the families, no matter how long it takes. The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives.”

Efforts to Find Parents

Because so much time has passed between family separation practices and today, initiatives to find those parents are difficult. They are also further complicated by the fact that during the pilot program, U.S. officials did not collect thorough information from these parents, and many were deported before courts ordered they be reunited with their kids. 

Nan Schivone, the legal director for Justice in Motion, which carries out on-the-ground searches for parents, told The Washington Post that attorneys “take the minimal, often inaccurate or out-of-date information provided by the government and do in-person investigations to find these parents.” 

Schivone said it is an “an arduous and time-consuming process on a good day.” Sometimes, these lawyers might find themselves in remote villages where outsiders are suspect and language barriers can slow down communication.

The pandemic halted these efforts as lockdowns and curfews made it impossible for Justice in Motion to look for parents abroad. Though, Tuesday’s filing revealed that “limited physical on-the-ground searches for separated parents has now resumed where possible to do so.” 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (NBC News) (Washington Post)

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