'Abolish ICE' May Have Faded, But 'Defund the Police' is Here to Stay, Advocates Say

A day after Democratic leaders largely rejected calls to weigh in on growing efforts to defund the police that sprung up amid national protests of George Floyd's death by police in Minneapolis, activists said the idea predates the moment and will continue with or without the support of elected officials at the national level.

Both slogans are short, to the point and serve as powerful hashtags, Democrats and activists said, and pointed out that the defund the police movement has been compared to calls in 2018 to abolish ICE that emerged after the Trump administration's increased efforts to separate families at the border.

But this movement, they argued, has the staying power the abolish ICE effort could not sustain. First, it isn't new, they said, because efforts to reduce police budgets to fund local programs and community policing has been longstanding, grassroots work.

It also has been fueled by the coronavirus pandemic as activists and Americans grew increasingly frustrated with the way resources were allocated to people of color hardest hit by the virus. As those people then sat at home, they watched on their phones and TV screens as an unarmed black man died after an officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Those people, advocates said, had enough.

"The crisis we're in is interrelated with the pandemic and we're calling to defund the police to take those resources and put them into what we need to survive," Aislinn Pulley, of Black Lives Matter Chicago, told Newsweek. "This is not a subjective fantasy, this is what we know: communities need education, jobs, health care, these are the things that address the social ills that arise from inequities."

Angela Rye, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, pointed out that during the highly broadcast protests, people can plainly see police on TV "gearing up for World War 3," while their opponents are armed with "cardboard signs and bullhorns." With those visuals in mind, the veil has been lifted on what ails society, she said.

"Twenty-twenty is this year where people can see clearly now and talking points and deception have no power," she told Newsweek. "'Where do you spend your money?' and 'How do you engage black people?' used to be asked by movement leaders—but now it's being asked by the people."

"Defund the police" is a concept that is largely defined in two ways: abolishing departments or diverting law enforcement budgets to community programs. In Minneapolis, for example, the city council voted to dismantle the police department in response to public pressure. However, activists said the measure will take two years to get on the ballot and isn't guaranteed.

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality said there are things that should happen now that involve reducing funding to police and reimagining the work officers do, like taking away the responsibility to respond to mental health and overdose calls, welfare checks, and homeless encampments.

"Defunding police is a buzzword, but not a new concept," Gross told Newsweek. "Democrats are afraid of the sexy name, but it shouldn't be scary for any politician to say we need the right responders at the right place, at the right time."

Veteran Democratic strategist Andres Ramirez in Las Vegas said Democrats' consternation has been around the different definitions of defunding the police, but the most palatable one is something the party can get behind, and has already been ongoing in communities across America, including his own.

In 2012 and 2013, the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office worked with the Las Vegas police department after complaints over deadly force practice, which led to 72 reforms suggested by COPS. The retraining, use of force reforms, and community policing efforts undertaken after the review, are all the types of things that can happen as law enforcement budgets and priorities are reworked and reestablished, Ramirez said.

Ramirez told Newsweek that the COPS review led to improved interactions between the community and police.

Belen Sisa, a longtime immigration activist and former press secretary for Bernie Sanders, said moves like the one in Minneapolis to disband their police departments only serve as another log on the ongoing defund the police fire.

"When people see those wins, that is what longlasting power is," she told Newsweek. "When you can visually see what you're fighting for as it's actually happening, it reminds you that this movement is not a sprint, it's a marathon."

defund police
Demonstrators calling to defund the Minneapolis Police Department march on University Avenue on June 6, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The march, organized by the Black Visions Collective, commemorated the life of George Floyd who was killed by members of the MPD on May 25. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/Getty