For years, activists have pushed US cities and states to cut law enforcement budgets amid a dramatic rise in spending on police and prisons while funding for vital social services has shrunk or disappeared altogether.
Government officials have long dismissed the idea as a leftist fantasy, but the recent unrest and massive budget shortfalls from the Covid-19 crisis appear to have inspired more mainstream recognition of the central arguments behind defunding.
“To see legislators who aren’t even necessarily on the left supporting at least a significant decrease in New York police department [NYPD] funding is really very encouraging,” Julia Salazar, a New York state senator and Democratic socialist, told the Guardian on Tuesday. “It feels a little bit surreal.”
Floyd’s death on camera in Minneapolis, advocates say, was a powerful demonstration that police reform efforts of the last half-decade have failed to stop racist policing and killings. Meanwhile, the striking visuals of enormous, militarized and at times violent police forces responding to peaceful protests have led some politicians to question whether police really need this much money and firepower.
Meanwhile, unemployment is surging amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, with housing and healthcare crises worsening. Many governments have been making painful cuts to services and expect to see tax revenue fall even further in the coming year. But police budgets have not been affected, and some mayors are even seeking to expand law enforcement funding.
A snapshot of some of city budget debates that have escalated this week:
Los Angeles: the police budget is $1.8bn, and the mayor has for weeks been pushing for raises and bonuses for officers and an overall 7% increase that would make the budget more than half of the general fund. But on Wednesday, he said he was now looking to make cuts to the police budget.
Philadelphia: The mayor has proposed spending $977m on police and prisons, which is 20% of the general fund. A $14m increase for police comes as the city is cutting funding for youth violence prevention, arts and culture, workforce development, and laying off staff at recreation centers and libraries.
It shows how unreal the loony left are.. it is a leftist fantasy.