This article is the opinion of Brian Beach.
Defunding the police, almost unheard of prior to 2020, is no longer a fringe idea.
According to Google Trends, the idea has exploded onto the scene since George Floyd’s death.
I will admit that at first, the movement seemed a bit extreme to me. Body cams, banning chokeholds, shooting the leg instead of the heart – these seem like pretty uncontroversial, albeit unimaginative, steps that should be adopted. Yet, defunding seemed a bit too far. I would not want to see Lincoln, Nebraska turn into a scene straight out of the Purge.
However, I began to realize that this demand to defund the police is not something so radical that it would destroy the fabric of society and cause the city to turn into anarchy. Instead, it is a very reasonable demand that happens to have a very terrible name.
Defunding city services is a pretty standard legislative process that occurs regularly. In 2019, the city of Lincoln proposed budget cuts to 16 different departments. The health department lost nearly $50,000, while the fire department cuts were over $300,000.
Oh, and by the way, the Lincoln Police Department’s budget was cut by $200,000 last year too. And there was no outcry. And there was no anarchy.
Lincoln mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird recently released her proposal for covering the $12 million shortfall in the city budget, which was caused by a sharp decline in income from sales tax during the city’s lockdown.
The plan includes cutting one day of service at city library branches, holding open some vacant jobs, delaying city service vehicle replacements and spending less money on city sidewalk repairs.
The Lincoln Police Department is actually a priority for the mayor’s budget. The money is being used to purchase body cameras for officers, a popular demand among those calling for police reform.
No one is condemning the mayor for mounting a personal attack against the character of librarians or sidewalk maintenance workers. Not even in this hyper-politicized year of 2020. Instead, with a budget shortfall, it is understood that cuts have to be made.
So no, defunding the police is not a radical idea any more than defunding the sidewalk repairs are. Sure, unrepaired sidewalks can kill you, but every budget cut comes at a price. The goal is to minimize the damage.
Defunding the police is only one part of the strategy, however. In fact, most activists want to replace police spending with funding for other city services such as housing, parks or transportation.
Unfortunately, many people never hear about the other side because “defund the police” signs at protests do not have enough space to include this part.
To be fair, “Defund the Police” looks cool on a protest sign, especially while standing face to face with police decked out in riot gear that costs nearly $800.
(Side note: Why is riot gear being sold to the public online?)
This article will not discuss whether defunding the police will actually make our communities safer, but there are plenty of articles on that topic, many of them written by people with years of experience studying the police.
Defunding city services is a pretty normal process that is hardly considered radical, but the defund the police movement is easy to attack because it has a pretty terrible name, at least for this stage of the debate.
There is a reason why the sides of the abortion issue are called pro-life and pro-choice, not anti-choice and anti-life. Sure, an “anti-choice” or “anti-life” rally would get the media’s attention, but it would not be a good long-term strategy for gaining public support.
If activists want to get mayors and city councils to consider defunding the police in places less liberal than Minneapolis, they need to change the strategy. The actual policy ideas of the defund police movement are worth hearing, but many immediately dismiss the idea as radical once they hear the word defund.
Instead, the movement must focus on what it will do instead of funding police. Perhaps it means better funding for mental health services. Or maybe it’s more funding for libraries. Or parks. And if the group really just wants to defund the police without increasing funding for anything else, the movement may be a way to cut taxes.
I do not have the official numbers on this, but I would venture that a majority of conservatives would be much more open to tax cuts than defunding the police.
I do recognize the anger of the protestors, and I can understand why many people feel anti-police. Police departments have kept me safe my whole life, but that has not been the case for many minority communities across the country. A rebrand of the movement does not take away the underlying reason for reform, but instead, makes the same policy changes more appealing to more people, giving them a greater chance to be considered and adopted.
Clearly, something must change in the way that policing is done in America. I can not tell you whether defunding the police is the best change to make, but I can say that all options need to be on the table in order to end police brutality in the United States. To dismiss the defunding option as radical is wrong, but it needs to have a clearer name to gain more public support.
Brian Beach is a sophomore journalism major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.