Looking to Barack Obama and his remarks on defunding the police as a ‘snappy slogan'’, or Keir Starmer’s claim of it being “nonsense”, we can see a clear rhetoric coming from places of power that fail to address the real concerns around police brutality and the necessary steps that need to be taken to defund the systemically racist institution that is the police.
Young people’s experiences with the police revolve around violence from the police to the youth. Black people are more than 8 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police in the UK.
This inability to connect with anti-police and anti-imprisonment demands is evident of a general attitude in society, where people are scared of the idea of defunding the police – as they are conditioned to the “compulsory” existence of law enforcement in society, unable to see its failings.
But what does “defunding the police” actually mean?
Defunding the police essentially means diverting funds away from policing and towards community organisations that do the work the police don't.
The police receive billions of pounds in funding that are, in turn, used to continue waging systemically racist policies by demonising and criminalising Black communities, waging violence and imprisoning them. Public spending on police services in the United Kingdom rose to 18.02 billion British pounds in 2019/20, the highest amount spent since 2011/12 when police spending was 18.24 billion pounds. Money here is in dire need of being redistributed away from policing, towards community organisations.
Community-led local grassroots organisations listen to the demands of young and marginalised people, without taking a half-hearted or violent approach like the police often does. Providing more funds to community organisations will work to bring systemic issues to the table, listen to the demands of young and marginalised people, and put love and compassion at the fore-front. In this, it will give a greater opportunity for such organisations to focus on mental health services, expand young people’s entrepreneurship and networking skills, provide educational services and provide them with knowledge of their rights.
Additionally, defunding the police does not only work to support community organisations, but also stops other institutions (such as the media) from feeding off criminalisation, racial profiling and imprisonment - who work to sensationalise and create a moral panic around the figure of the “Black criminal”.
So, what defunding the police actually means is to divert money away from racist police who are not beneficial to Black community and who actively work to upkeep the poverty cycle, criminalise the innocent, and uphold a definition of crime that is only applicable to young Black people. This money is given to community organisations who work to heal marginalised people, and give them the platform to thrive and lead change.
Defunding the police is a step towards abolition – it opens up space to overthrow racist institutions by building new organisations that bring a sense of transformative justice centered around young people and progressive means.
The impending need for this type of revolution is exactly why the general opposition voiced by Obama and Starmer needs to change. The police do not work to keep the majority of the people safe – they are not the institution that we think is necessary to maintain order in society. The police are the very reason why so much violence exists in the first place, especially inflicted on young Black people and marginalised communities.
The work of grassroots organisations is what is necessary in society – we can no longer give power to a racist and obsolete institution that works to criminalise Black communities and inflict harm upon them in the streets and in prisons.
Lastly, defunding the police points to a greater need for revolution, not reformation.
Reform is simply not plausible for institutions that are systemically racist, since they have been built so that reforms will never fully achieve a fundamental structural change. Founded on racist and authoritative policies, their very existence keeps the system working by criminalising and imprisoning the younger generation – and reform will never bring the institutions itself into question.
The popular-held belief – of powerful people like Obama, Starmer, and a liberal society alike – works to stray away from necessary change, by trivialising it and assuming it doesn’t represent the status quo. We should expect such a revolution to trouble society and shake the foundations of the status quo because that is what we need to overcome racist institutions that have existed for too long, and have caused so much suffering and injustice.
Revolution, steps towards abolition and abolition itself is the only true way towards real social change. Change in this way is necessary.