Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Cullors Says Current System of Law Enforcement Must be Abolished

Seeing mass protests ignite across the country and around the world under the banner of "Black Lives Matter" is a bittersweet moment for Patrisse Cullors, one of the three co-founders of the BLM movement.

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds during an arrest, is a tragedy that has left her and countless people around the world devastated.

But seeing thousands upon thousands of people around the world take to the streets and demand change to the system that failed Floyd and many other members of the black community before him, is a "watershed moment," Cullors told Newsweek in an interview Friday.

In the years since the Black Lives Matter movement began, Cullors said, "folks have witnessed over and over again and experienced the killing of black people by police, the harming maiming, brutalizing and torturing and while that is happening, our communities have not received enough resources to live our daily lives."

'Enough is enough'

As protesters across the country call on the U.S. to address police brutality, as well as systemic racism in policing and in society as a whole, Cullors said it is time to put those calls into action.

Cullors is one of several activists leading calls to "defund the police" with the BLM co-founder penning an open letter calling for a dramatic restructuring of government budgets to see law enforcement funding slashed and diverted directly into communities, in particular black communities that have been denied support.

"Enough is enough," she told Newsweek. "It's time we defund law enforcement and start reinvesting into communities."

While, ultimately, Cullors said she believes that law enforcement as we know it today should be abolished entirely, she acknowledged that the road to abolition could be a long one—that is why, she said, it needs to be taken step by step.

The first step, she said, would be significantly reducing funding to law enforcement bodies and redirecting that money into initiatives directly serving communities, including education, healthcare and community programming.

"We don't disband law enforcement in just one day. That's not logical," she said.

'What we can do right now'

"I think we should ultimately abolish [law enforcement]," Cullors said. "What we can do right now is drastically reduce law enforcement's relationship to the community."

"They don't have to be the first responders to mental healthcare crises, they don't have to be the first responders to issues around domestic violence, they don't have to be the first responders to presumably every single issue or social ill, like homelessness, drug addiction," she said.

People in the U.S. and other countries around the world, she said, need to question why police are considered the first port of call for most emergencies that people face in their communities.

She also noted, as Americans have seen over and over again with repeated instances of white people calling the police on black people for doing the most mundane of things, such as trying to birdwatch in Central Park, hold a BBQ or even move into their own new home, that not all communities can rely on police in the same way.

"Certain communities' relationships with the police are exactly the way they're supposed to be. They do make them safe. They do protect them," she said. "But, the freedom of mostly white affluent people is predicated on the unfreedom of black people. So, law enforcement is not actually used to keep black people safe. They're used to patrol, occupy, harass, abuse, often hunt and mostly, what we've seen is kill our communities," she said. "I should also add surveillance. Surveillance is a big part of what they do in our neighborhoods."

So, she asked, "do we keep cops just because they keep white affluent people safe or do we reevaluate what safety actually means?"

The process of defunding law enforcement, she said, however, extends beyond police departments to incarceration and the process of justice in the U.S. as a whole.

With the recent death of Jamel Floyd, a 35-year-old black man held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn who died after guards used pepper spray on him when he became "disruptive," Cullors said jails, prisons and detention centers are also failing black communities, as well as other communities in the U.S.

"Policing and incarceration are part of a continuum. The policing is the first response and then incarceration is the last response. And these two systems rely on each other very, very deeply. We have to be working on getting rid of both systems," she said. "When we're thinking about defunding police, we need to be thinking about defunding the mass incarceration state."

Patrisse Cullors
Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, speaks at the 2018 ACLU National Conference at the Washington Convention Center on June 11, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Paul Morigi/Getty