Protesters gather June 2020, New York City. Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim on flickr

By Melina Cantagallo, age 12

While the Black Lives Matter movement was established seven years ago, the death of George Floyd in May, among other Black lives at the hands of police, has raised the question: “Are the police really keeping us safe?” According to a Gallup poll from late July, 94% of Americans believe a change has to be made to policing, 58% of them want a major change to be made and 36% want a minor change. 

One major change would be to defund the police entirely, something that many protesters have been calling for. To defund the police would entail reallocating funding which is currently given to police departments to government agencies like social workers and task forces which are trained in deescalation tactics. 

Defunding the police is in line with the abolitionist movement, which seeks to eradicate police and prison systems and address harm by investing that money in local community organizations instead. “These activists demand an entirely new public safety system based on social and economic equity, bolstered by a network of nonviolent emergency responders,” said political activist and prominent abolitionist Angela Davis. “They are offering more than a different vision for public safety — they are offering a different vision for the composition, and fundamental assumptions, of society.” Davis goes on to explain that those who wish to defund and abolish the police have a different view of what causes crime in the first place. Abolitionists want to focus resources on boosting education and healthcare and to remove police departments entirely.

Police reform means to change the guidelines on certain aspects of an organization to improve it. Those seeking reform for police departments don’t necessarily want to disrupt funding, but do want new policies, training and practices. Reform often means to invest more funding. One way to reform the police is to enforce monthly racial bias training, limiting officers’ use of force and increasing accountability. Presidential candidate Joe Biden pledged to allocate $300 million toward community policing, according to NBC News. Community policing would involve assigning officers to specific communities to become familiar with residents.

The Action Center on Race and the Economy published a study on how some of the biggest cities in the United States spend tax dollars toward the police department. According to the last valid assessment in 2017, U.S. taxpayers spend $115 billion on police departments each year. Perhaps if that money is spent on reform or reallocation to other services instead, we would see an end to the problems of police brutality currently plaguing the country.