On June 5, the Washington DC mayor unveiled a statement, painted down the street leading to the White House. “Black Lives Matter.” Within 24 hours, Black Lives Matter activists responded with their own message: “Defund the Police.” The slogan caught on rapidly among tens of thousands of people protesting police brutality.
If you’ve been to a protest, or have been paying attention to the news lately, there is a chance you’ve heard of “Defund the Police.” It is a rallying cry that has gained traction following the killing of George Floyd by police. Due to so many black Americans being killed, people are calling for police reform.
How it became what it is today
The idea of de-funding the police as we know it today, emerged from the period of mass incarceration in the 80s and 90s, and the development of the prison abolition moment. The idea itself is based on a recognition that policing itself is a form of harm, especially for black communities and that no amount of reform or training, will prevent future violence, because it’s an institution designed to use violence to fix problems.
Society tell the police they’re waging a war on crime, and a war on drugs and a war on gangs and a war on immigrants, and we’ve infused them with not just military equipment, but a military ethos that gets them to view the pubic as this force to be neutralized.
What does it really mean to defund the police? And what if it’s not as radical as it sounds?
The origin story of today’s RCMP shares deep ties to Canada’s Confederation in 1867 and the Dominion Police. Early police forces were developed to forcibly remove indigenous people from their lands; its paramilitary origins are still highly visible in everything from its training depot to how it organizes its officers into troops, right down to the horse and the uniform.
Although de-funding the police seems like a straightforward concept, there is still a spectrum of thought about it. On one end, there are people who want to defund the police and eventually abolish police departments entirely. On the other end, there are people who want to cut some money from police budgets and scale back their activities.
Regardless, the basic concept is this: money should be taken away from police departments and reinvested in social services that are pro-active rather than reactive, such as funding better education, housing, mental health, and alternatives to policing.
What is certain amongst Canadians is that they are uncertain on this issue. In an Ipsos poll conducted for global news, 51% support the idea of de-funding police and redirecting money into community services.
The financial aspect
Coast-to-coast, from Vancouver to Charlottetown, P.E.I., Canadian cities are spending 15 to 20 per cent or more of their budget on law enforcement, the bulk of it coming from municipal taxes. The city of Port Coquitlam alone had an annual spending limit of 110 million in 2020, of which 21.1 million was spent on policing. However, this pattern of high police spending is not only the RCMP. In early June 2020, the Vancouver Police Board rejected a motion by city council calling for a 1 per cent cut to the police’s $339 million budget, about 21 per cent of the city’s $1.62 billion operating budget for 2020. The city of Vancouver spends just over 28% of taxpayer dollars on funding the police. That’s a cost of just under $340 million. This is more than the tax dollars spent on public transportation, the library, parks and recreation, and transportation/road maintenance combined.
What the movement is trying to achieve
Opponents of de-funding the police often favor police reform and argue that if we de-fund or abolish the police, what are we going to do when violent crimes occur like murder and rape?
The police are not preventing these incidents sufficiently, getting rid of the police also requires coming up with alternatives to policing that better serve community needs, and that social factors that lead to people to committing crimes in the first place, such as addiction and poverty need to be addressed.
The purpose of interventions such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is not to decide whether the police are responsible or not, but to prevent incidents and deaths from happening and provide appropriate and caring responses, that’s what abolition means.
How much of the city budget goes towards RCMP:
CTV News article on defunding the police: