My last apartment was across the street from one of my favorite fast-food restaurants. In the summer, when the windows were open, the smell of french fries and chicken filled the whole apartment. The easy access and constant reminders of their food made it difficult to avoid spending money there.
I needed to defund my fast food habit.
Now, cutting back on fast food didn’t mean I should stop spending on food altogether. Rather, that it would be in my best interest to reallocate my funds towards healthier food options.
Using the same line of thinking, defunding the police means the government needs to reallocate funds towards more beneficial means of public safety.
Obviously, the city budget is a lot more complex than my own. There are more people whose needs have to be considered, more diverse expenses, and a lot more money.
But the analogy can still be useful to get a better understanding of the reasoning behind “defund the police.”
When activists and protesters use “defund the police,” it isn’t a call to end public safety. The movement is meant to address the problems with our current view of safety and create a new system that works better for all people.
Right now, policing is the most prominent form of public safety. However, policing does not serve and protect all Americans equally. Neighborhoods of color are disproportionately policed. Black and Latinx Americans are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated.
In an effort to better serve myself, I had to think critically about my dinner plans. Similarly, in an effort to better serve our communities, we have to reimagine public safety.
What does a world without police look like? In the words of Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, “A suburb.”
In a wealthy suburb, the government meets the community’s needs. Schools are well funded. Residents have access to quality healthcare. People aren’t forced to decide whether to spend money on rent or food.
A suburb (for my Minnesotans, think Edina, Wayzata, or Minnetonka) is a safe place to walk around without a large police presence. In other words, the police are not the key to public safety in places like the suburbs.
Building safe communities is not a simple task. It will require better budgeting, more impactful community programs and services, fuller enfranchisement for all people, and a lot more.
Our communities are worth the investment.