In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, the words were ubiquitous, scrawled on pieces of cardboard held aloft at protests, written on banners unfurled by legions of demonstrators, painted in large letters on city streets.
“Defund the police” became the clarion call for Americans sickened by the indifference toward decades of police abuse meted out against people of color in our nation’s cities.
Calls to defund police swept through most major American cities.
More than a year later, the defund movement has lost traction. “In cities across America, police departments are getting their money back,” The New York Times recently reported.
Cities are realizing that while real, lasting police reform can and must happen, the last thing violence-wracked neighborhoods need is a diminishing of police resources. At the same time, fraught relations between police and predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods will never improve if comprehensive police reform doesn’t accompany beefed-up police budgets. Chicago has the right road map for that reform: the federally mandated consent decree aimed at overhauling police training, supervision and accountability. Since the decree took effect in 2019, the Chicago Police Department has consistently been far too slow to meet deadlines for implementing the document’s mandated reforms.
Now is also the time to find ways to ramp up funding for non-police answers to the scourge of violent crime. Violence prevention programs rely on street outreach workers, many of them former gang members, to connect with and counsel young men at risk of either killing or being killed. Those programs have proven track records for curbing violence, and should be expanded. Also needed are efforts to build up mental health services and job training in neighborhoods struggling with violence.
George Floyd’s murder cast a desperately needed, unblinking spotlight on the need for police reform, on deep-seated racism found across all echelons of American society. It’s easy to understand why the call to defund police took hold so viscerally. But it’s clear the idea can only do much more harm than good—and it’s reassuring to see cities across the country embracing that realization.