DAVENPORT, Iowa – The racial justice protests following the death of George Floyd earlier this year prompted calls to “defund the police” in cities across the country, a priority for activists that has now become a central point in the presidential contest.
A review by The Associated Press finds that while local governments have trimmed police budgets over the past four months, the cuts have been mostly modest. They have been driven as much by shrinking government revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic as from the calls to rethink public safety.
Advocates want to overhaul a policing system that has repeatedly been linked to brutality against Black people, including the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.
Those calling for defunding generally mean shifting money from law enforcement agencies to other efforts. They want social workers rather than police to respond to non-crime emergency calls and more money sent to community programs aimed at preventing crime. They want to take police officers out of schools and military gear away from departments.
“Police don’t really solve or prevent most of what is classified as criminal activity,” said Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, a lead activist at the Movement for Black Lives.
A narrative that has often overwhelmed local debates over police reforms and funding is that activists want to strip entire budgets from local law enforcement and replace the departments with something else. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, supports defunding police, even though Biden has stated clearly that he does not. Democratic mayors across the U.S. also have pumped the brakes on major changes.
In Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, all hotspots for protests and counter protests, the calls for deep police cuts have been answered with modest ones, at least for now. Even in liberal enclaves such as Austin, Texas, and Berkeley, California, where officials have embraced sweeping changes to policing, implementation is slow-going and uncertain.
Some of the boldest proposals came in Minneapolis, where Floyd died after being pinned to the ground by a white officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes. The officer and three other officers were fired and have been charged in Floyd’s death.