Some who recently jumped on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon say the activist network’s national demand to “defund” police should not be taken literally. Others seem to misunderstand the meaning of the word. And then there are those who still think “Black Lives Matter” is just a rallying cry rather than an organization with a very specific agenda.
But the most active BLM chapters have been organizing their communities to defund police departments long before the tragic death of George Floyd. In major cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, BLM organizers teamed with progressive coalitions and have already forced policy changes across the local law enforcement spectrum, affecting the county sheriff down to cops in public schools.
Their strategy is admittedly incremental, described as “an abolitionist approach,” intending to abolish police eventually.
Finally an article that covers our actual stance on policing particularly as it pertains to this "police reform" and "winning a seat at the table" narrative. https://t.co/hkrUK0AA8L
— BLMChicago (@BLMChi) April 5, 2018
What many “bandwagon” supporters of the group fail to understand is its deeper commitment to upending capitalism. BLM leaders believe law enforcement agencies exist to maintain America’s capitalist social order, which in turn is the root cause of police brutality against black people. They say racially biased policing and capitalism are connected structures of oppression that must be dismantled.
“White capitalism requires racist, violent policing to protect it,” explained Dr. Melina Abdullah, a founding member of Black Lives Matter who leads its Los Angeles chapter. “In order to eliminate police violence, and the killings of our people at their hands, we must also target the economic systems that built it and rely on it.”
Abdullah, who is also a professor at California State University, L.A., teaches that “white-supremacist capitalism condones, benefits from, and even requires violence against Black people.” She has often urged rallygoers to “disrupt white capitalism” while speaking at high-profile BLM demonstrations organized around fatal officer-involved shootings.
Many white ppl tried to overshout BLM organizers last night as we created space for Black Joy, and while we held DC police accountable by uplifting the names of the Black people they have killed here. Lets be clear, our demand is to defund the police in DC by any means necessary. pic.twitter.com/G9bzVdfhKM
— Black Lives Matter DC (@DMVBlackLives) June 4, 2020
BLM’s plan to defund police involves gradually shifting public safety responsibilities and funding away from law enforcement, then reallocating that money to new services centered around meeting the universal needs of people, such as housing, healthcare, and access to nutritious food.
Leaders maintain police funds would also be better spent creating more parks, libraries, and social programs that would benefit disadvantaged neighborhoods. Mental health counselors and community-based public safety teams would respond to some people in crises, without firearms.
“We’re fighting for the complete abolition of this system,” Dr. Anthony Ratcliff, a BLM organizer based in L.A., has said. “We believe that with healthy communities, we don’t need police.”
In Los Angeles, BLM’s drive to dismantle LAPD and redistribute its budget has accelerated in recent weeks.
The $150 million cut to LAPD funding & reallocation of $250m to communities of color comes as a result of PROTEST and ORGANIZING. This step forward was won by the people.
THIS happened the day before @MayorOfLA made his announcement… and we're not done…#DefundThePolice pic.twitter.com/AaWTpq7grB
— #BlackLivesMatter-LA (@BLMLA) June 5, 2020
After BLM and allies protested outside Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home, he announced plans to cut LAPD funding by as much as $150 million. According to the L.A. Times, the mayor “said he will direct $250 million to youth jobs, health initiatives and ‘peace centers’ to heal trauma, and will allow those who have suffered discrimination to collect damages.”
Garcetti said his proposal is meant to address “structural racism” against black communities. “I agree with the sentiment that this is just a start, and my promise to people is we have to think about reimagining public safety,” Garcetti said at a press conference last week.
— #BlackLivesMatter-LA (@BLMLA) June 8, 2020
On Tuesday, several L.A. City Council members proposed developing a new policing model that would divert nonviolent 911 calls to “appropriate non-law enforcement agencies.” The idea was motivated by BLM and other activists who put forth a plan called People’s Budget L.A., which would allocate less than two percent of the city’s general fund to law enforcement.
“We believe in the abolition of policing as we know it,” Dr. Abdullah has said. “We believe in not reform, but transformation of the public safety system.”
BLM’s organizing draws on the energy of esteemed abolitionists of the past and present. Abdullah has conjured the spirits of deceased abolitionists, such as Ida B. Wells and Nat Turner, to guide activists and provide a celestial presence at BLM events.
Their work is also inspired by modern-day abolitionists, like Dr. Angela Davis, best known for her affiliations with the Black Panthers and Communist Party USA. Davis has labeled the growing calls to defund police “an abolitionist demand,” and argues that abolition is “about revolution” and “rethinking the kind of future we want.”
At an abolition conclave in L.A. more than three years ago, Davis told several prominent BLM organizers in attendance: “The slogan we have to raise, I think, is ‘Abolish the LAPD.’” However, she emphasized that goal should be conjoined with efforts to tear down other oppressive systems simultaneously.
“You can’t simply focus myopically on one thing and say ‘get rid of slavery,’ or ‘get rid of prisons,’ or ‘get rid of the police,’” Davis told the gathering. “Abolition asks us to think about what it is we need to do to transform the entire context, the entire society.”
She praised Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors for creating “a new arena of struggle” that incorporates the principles of abolition into the activist network’s objectives, which involve “the toppling of White supremacist-patriarchal-heteronormative capitalism.”
The sys of Wt supremacist heteronorm patriarchal capitalism is extremely fragile. Their pwr is false & easily toppled when the ppl rise up.
— Melina Abdullah (@DocMellyMel) August 12, 2015
Dr. Davis said abolition is “about reimagining justice” and asking the questions, “What would justice look like if we lived in a society that could not depend on prisons and could not depend on police?”
“Ultimately, I think we’re led to recognize that we will have to overthrow the economic system under which we live,” Davis went on to tell the gathering. “We will have to look beyond capitalism. We need something else – whether we want to call it socialism or communism or whatever, we need something else.”
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