As protests against police brutality grew across the country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, one nonprofit stepped forward with a set of eight reforms, #8Can’tWait, that they claimed would dramatically reduce police violence—policy changes such as a ban on chokeholds or a requirement that police use de-escalation techniques. But activists quickly criticized the platform, pointing out that reforms that happened in the past haven’t gone far enough. Minneapolis, where George Floyd died at the hands of police, was one of several cities that had enacted several reforms in the past. No matter how much training or regulations the police get, they argued, they’re still capable of violence and discrimination.
A new campaign is a direct response: 8toAbolition argues that the real answer isn’t a set of basic reforms but completely dismantling the current system of police and prisons, and rebuilding a system that actually works. Simpler reforms “are still leaving weapons in the hands of police, and keeping the structures of policing and mass incarceration in place that have been really harmful,” says Rachel Kuo, one of the contributors to the new site. “What we’ve seen, over and over and over again, is that these systems are actually working in the way that they were intended—that is, in both the murder and incarceration of black, brown, and poor people.”
“We believe in a world where there are zero police murders because there are zero police, not because police are better trained or better regulated—indeed, history has shown that ending police violence through more training or regulations is impossible,” the group of activists writes on the new site. That doesn’t mean that police and prisons will immediately disappear. But it’s possible to take steps now that “reduce the scale, scope, power, authority, and legitimacy of criminalizing institutions.”
The site lays out eight points, though it acknowledges that the challenge is more complex than a simple list.
- Defund police. This means stopping the expansion of police budgets, and over time, forcing budgets to shrink. Any police officers who use excessive force should immediately be fired, and not replaced. Police unions should lose power. The activists argue that cities also shouldn’t partner with companies that promise temporary technological fixes for police departments. Eventually, there will no longer be police, with community health and safety handled by other programs.
- Demilitarize communities. The activists argue that law enforcement officers shouldn’t be armed. (This goes beyond guns: Since 1997, the Department of Defense has transferred $7.2 billion in military equipment to the police, from armored vehicles and helicopters to grenade launchers.) Police shouldn’t be in hospitals. “Broken windows” policing strategies, which harm neighborhoods with people of color, should end. Police shouldn’t have access to surveillance technology like CCTV, DNA databases, and drones.
- Remove police from schools. Metal detectors and surveillance tech shouldn’t be in schools, the activists say, and neither should the police. There are roughly 46,000 police in American schools now, despite the fact that there isn’t evidence that their presence makes children safer; instead, they make it more likely that students of color are suspended or arrested. Universities should also end contracts with the police.
- Free people from jails and prisons. The activists call for reducing arrests—but also call for freeing people from involuntary confinement, beginning with some groups such as those who are elderly or disabled, building on a long history of advocacy for prison abolition from activists such as Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Pre-trial detention should end; immigration detention and family separation should end.
- Repeal laws that criminalize survival. Local laws that criminalize homelessness—by prohibiting loitering, panhandling, or sleeping in public, for example—should be struck down, the activists say. Ordinances that criminalize sex work should be repealed.
- Invest in community self-governance. Communities can take on public safety through violence prevention and intervention programs and other work. Neighborhood councils can help better represent the community in city decision-making. Communities can invest in other resources to help, from tenants’ unions to shop owners of color.
- Provide safe housing for everyone. The activists suggest everything from rent cancellation during the COVID-19 crisis and prohibiting evictions to repurposing empty buildings to house people experiencing homelessness and setting up community land trusts.
- Invest in care, not cops. The huge amounts of funding that currently go to the police can be reallocated to services like healthcare, drug and alcohol treatment, education and universal childcare, public transit, community-based food banks and farms, and other resources that are underfunded now.
The original campaign, #8Can’tWait, has now updated its website in response, with the organizers saying that they now realize that they “unintentionally detracted from efforts of fellow organizers invested in paradigmatic shifts that are newly possible in this moment.” On the ground, the calls to defund the police are gaining traction. The mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco want to shrink their police budgets, and New York City now plans to move some funding from the NYPD to youth and social services. Minneapolis is going even further, with plans to disband its police department and rebuild a new system for public safety.
“I think seeing a city like Minneapolis take that step hopefully sets a precedent for other cities as well—especially major cities such as L.A., New York City, Chicago—to also pursue similar steps,” Kuo says. “It’s going to take at least one to kind of set that tone that this is something that is really possible and is actualizable.”