Instead of cities spending a lion's share of their budgets on their police departments, Defund the Police advocates argue that money should support affordable housing, healthcare, child care, mental health treatment and other services. There has been calls for reform following the 1967 uprisings in cities across the US and as a response to the police beating of Rodney King in 1991 as well as to the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014.
The Minneapolis City Council unanimously supported a resolution to determine a community-supported replacement for the city's police force. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also announced his intention to strip $250 million from the city's police department budget, which tops $1.8 billion, and redirect funds into youth programs, healthcare and other areas. New York City police commissioner Dermot Shea also dissolved a plainclothes unit that has been criticised for pitting police against communities it serves. Following New York's passage of a massive legislative package with sweeping reforms, Governor Andrew Cuomo told protesters: "You won." Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, following the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, also ordered her city's police department to "immediately adopt" deescalation policies, including holding officers accountable for their "duty to intervene" against another officer's use of deadly force.
Mariama Kaba argues that commissions, studies and the "best practices" that emerge from police abuse investigations from as early as 1894 only "served as a kind of counterinsurgent function each time police violence led to protests." "The philosophy undergirding these reforms is that more rules will mean less violence," Kaba writes. "Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers."
A 2017 report from the Centre for Popular Democracy, Black Youth Project 100 and Law for Black Lives found that several major cities have "stripped funds from mental health services, housing subsidies, youth programs, and food benefits programs, while pouring money into police forces, military grade weapons, high-tech surveillance, jails, and prisons".
A 2018 report from the National Institutes of Health determined that a "combined investment in a public health, community-based approach to violence prevention and a criminal justice approach focused on deterrence can achieve more to reduce population-level rates of urban violence than either can in isolation."
Critical Resistance member Kamau Walton says. "When communities are stable, healthy and thriving, we know there's a lot less harm and violence."
The Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective, for example, shifted from thinking about transformative justice within "communities" to "pods", which are "made up of the people that you would call on if violence, harm or abuse happened to you", had witnessed, or wanted accountability for.
"Why can't we be the ones taking care of each other, instead of police, who tend to escalate and further traumatise people when that doesn't need to happen?" Walton argues. "Why not invest in people who are going to see you as a neighbour, a cousin, a friend, a loved one, that they care for and want to take care of? That's the idea behind the solutions we want to see, that they need to be based in communities that see people as people, people connected to them and that they're accountable to."
Abolitionists argue that police don't actually stop violence from happening, and that a better administration of justice should come from communities holding people accountable. Addressing the conditions that lead to people committing violence would prevent it from happening in the first place, they argue, while prisons don't inherently repair the health or harms that lead to a person's imprisonment, including their mental health, addiction or abuse.
Rather than public safety spearheaded by police, abolitionists call for the communities themselves to take the lead. Neighbours can learn to de-escalate incidents, respond to mental health issues and hold one another accountable for their communities. Most conflicts could be disrupted through mediation, or defused by social workers or mental health workers and other care providers.
The United States is the world's incarceration capital, housing a quarter of the world's prisoners in a nation that represents only 5 per cent of the global population.
Reformers seek to end its prison system's legacy of racism, from its roots in plantation-era America to its echoes in mass incarceration today. The USA disproportionately jails black people — African Americans make up 13 per cent of the US but more than 40 per cent of prison populations. Following the ending of enslavement at the end of the US Civil War, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery except for those convicted of a crime, allowing the adoption of "black codes" in economically devastated southern states at the end of the war to impose harsh penalties against newly freed black Americans for minor crimes, ensuring their continued "free" labour in prison. "Convict leasing" would go on to provide labour for massive private infrastructure, while legalised segregation and Jim Crow-era terror criminalised black Americans.