America badly needs to rethink its priorities for the whole criminal-justice system, with Floyd’s death drawing urgent, national attention to the necessity for police reform. Activists, civil-rights organizations, academics, policy analysts, and politicians have drawn up a sprawling slate of policies that might help end police brutality, eliminate racist policing, improve trust between cops and the communities they work in, and lower crime levels.
A more radical option, one scrawled on cardboard signs and tagged on buildings and flooding social media, is to defund the cops. What might that mean in practice? Not just smaller budgets and fewer officers, though many activists advocate for that. It would mean ending mass incarceration, cash bail, fines-and-fees policing, the war on drugs, and police militarization, as well as getting cops out of schools. It would also mean funding housing-first programs, creating subsidized jobs for the formerly incarcerated, and expanding initiatives to have mental-health professionals and social workers respond to emergency calls.
More broadly, the demand to divest from policing doubles as a call to invest in safety, security, and racial justice. This week, cops in riot gear teargassed teenagers, Humvees patrolled near the White House, and military helicopters buzzed protesters. At the same time, health workers fought COVID-19 wearing reused masks. This is not serving. This is not protecting.