Posted on June 2, 2020

The Only Solution Is to Defund the Police

Alex S. Vitale, The Nation, May 31, 2020

The explosion of protest across the United States in recent days makes clear that the crisis in Minneapolis is a national crisis. It has been almost six years since the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, and little has changed in how poor communities of color are being policed. It’s time to rethink superficial and ineffective procedural police reforms and move to defund the police instead.

In the immediate aftermath of Brown’s and Garner’s murders in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, the Obama administration responded by calling for more federal investigations and commissioned a report, from the President’s Task Force on 20th Century Policing, that laid out a host of reforms—which I and others criticized at the time. These reforms were rooted in the concept of procedural justice, which argues that if the police enforce the law in a more professional, unbiased, and procedurally proper way, then the public will develop more trust in them and fewer violent confrontations and protests will ensue. This concept ends up taking the form of interventions like implicit bias training, police-community encounter sessions, tweaks to official use-of-force policies, and early warning systems to identify potentially problematic officers.

The Obama Department of Justice used this framework to bring a small number of pattern and practice cases against select police departments, such as the one in Ferguson, to compel them to adopt these measures. It also poured millions of dollars into training and community relations initiatives like the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which included money for Minneapolis.

But these kinds of federal interventions have failed to show any signs of positive changes in policing. {snip}

There’s no evidence that implicit bias training or community relations initiatives help. {snip}

Many of these reforms have been implemented in Minneapolis. In 2018 the city issued a report outlining all the procedural justice reforms it has embraced, like mindfulness training, crisis intervention team training, implicit bias training, body cameras, early warning systems to identify problematic officers, and so on. They have made no difference. In fact, local activist groups like Reclaim the BlockBlack Visions Collective, and MPD 150 have rejected more training and oversight as a solution and are now calling on Mayor Jacob Frey to cut the police budget by $45 million and shift those resources into community-led health and safety strategies.


These strategies would do nothing to change the basic mission of policing, which has expanded dramatically over the past 40 years. Another DOJ investigation or another officer fired or indicted won’t end the war on drugs, the criminalization of the poor, or the demonization of young people of color.


It is time for the federal government, major foundations, and local governments to stop trying to manage problems of poverty and racial discrimination by wasting millions of dollars on pointless and ineffective procedural reforms that merely provide cover for the expanded use of policing. It’s time for everyone to quit thinking that jailing one more killer cop will do anything to change the nature of American policing. We must move, instead, to significantly defund the police and redirect resources into community-based initiatives that can produce real safety and security without the violence and racism inherent in the criminal justice system.