The Minneapolis city council has pledged to disband the city’s police department and replace it with a new system of public safety, a historic move that comes as calls to defund law enforcement are sweeping the US. Speaking at a community rally on June 7, a veto-proof majority of council members declared their intent to “dismantle” and “abolish” the embattled police agency responsible for George Floyd’s death, and build an alternative model of community-led safety. The decision is a direct response to the massive protests that have taken over American cities in the last two weeks, and is a major victory for abolitionist activists who have long fought to disband police and prisons. “In Minneapolis and in cities across the US, it is clear that our system of policing is not keeping our communities safe,” said Lisa Bender, the Minneapolis city council president, at the event. “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period. Our commitment is to do what’s necessary to keep every single member of our community safe and to tell the truth: that the Minneapolis police are not doing that. Our commitment is to end policing as we know it and to recreate systems of public safety that actually keep us safe.” Nine council members announced their support and represent a supermajority on the 12-person council, meaning the mayor, who earlier this weekend opposed disbanding the department, cannot override them.
The formal effort to abolish a major-city police department in America and replace it with a different model of safety would have been almost unthinkable even weeks ago and is a testament to the impact of the protests that began with George Floyd’s death on May 25. “This is a moment that’s going to go down in history as a landmark in the police and prison abolition movement,” said Tony Williams, a member of MPD150, a Minneapolis group whose literature on building a “police-free future” has been widely shared during the protests. “There’s a groundswell of support for this. People are grounded in the history of policing in a way that has never happened before. It’s visible that police are not able to create safety for communities.” The council members are expected to face opposition from law enforcement officials and the police union, though activists emphasize that the veto-proof majority has the authority to move forward regardless of opposition. President Donald Trump tweeted his opposition to the Minneapolis move on June 8, stating “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!”
While the effort in Minneapolis is the most radical, a number of other US mayors and local leaders have reversed their positions on police funding. The mayor of Los Angeles said he would look to cut as much as $150 million from the police this week, just days after he pushed forward a city budget that was increasing it by 7%. Following days of protests and widespread accounts of police misconduct in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on June 7 that some funding would be moved from the police to “youth initiatives and social services”. Some council members and others, however, have been pushing for a $1 billion divestment from the New York Police Department. “The details will be worked out in the budget process in the weeks ahead, but I want people to understand that we are committed to shifting resources to ensure that the focus is on our young people,” Mayor De Blasio said. “And I also will affirm while doing that, we will only do it in a way that we are certain continues to ensure that this city will be safe.” De Blasio also announced that enforcement of regulations involving street vendors – many of whom are persons of color and, or immigrants, should not be handled by police. “Civilian agencies can work on proper enforcement and that’s what we’ll do going forward,” he said.
For years, police abolitionist groups have advocated for governments to take money away from police and prisons and reinvesting the funds in other services. The basic principle is that government budgets and “public safety” spending should prioritize housing, employment, community health, education and other vital programs, instead of police officers. Advocates for defunding argue that recent police reform efforts have been unsuccessful, noting that de-escalation training, body cameras, and other moves have not stopped racist brutality and killings. Amid the current protests, abolitionist groups have put forward concrete steps toward dismantling police and prisons, arguing that defunding police is the first move and that cities need to remove police from schools, repeal laws that “criminalize survival” such as anti-homelessness policies, provide safe housing for people and more. Colleges, public school systems, museums, and other institutions have also increasingly announced plans to divest from the police.