Video: Why Didn’t “Defund the Police” Happen?

As the horrors of U.S. law enforcement continue, apparently unabated, I’ve encountered people who blame the current so-called crime wave on the defunding of the police. The problem is that as far as I can tell, nobody has defunded the police at all, anywhere. There were a couple places that made a nod in that direction, but I don’t think any of them have followed through so far. Biden’s “No, let’s fund them more” argument has won out. This video from The Renegade Cut digs into the issue, and also into some of the discussion around whether or not “Defund the Police” was a good slogan.

In particular, there’s an argument that the movement didn’t succeed (yet) because the slogan wasn’t specific enough, and was too scary. My view is that no matter what slogan was used, the propaganda against change would go just as hard, and lie just as much. For example, U.S. conservatives have consistently accused Biden and the rest of the Democratic Party of defunding the police, which – as I mentioned – is very much not the case. Trying to come up with a more innocuous or more comprehensive slogan would not help us. It’s like the way the Democrats are attacked for being socialists, despite the obvious effort they’ve made to keep even the most approachable of social democrats from getting any real power. The slogan starts conversations, and it says what we want to do. Trying to tone it down would just be seen – possibly correctly – as dishonesty, and used to further conspiracy theories. Better to let the idea become mainstream through persistent use, and through aggressive countering of misinformation from the right. That will remove the shock, and make it far easier to push the idea in the years to come.


  1. says

    The problem is that as far as I can tell, nobody has defunded the police at all, anywhere.

    Do Republican tax and spending cuts count?

  2. says

    My view is that no matter what slogan was used, the propaganda against change would go just as hard, and lie just as much.

    Agreed. This reminds me, though, of frustrating conversations I have had with my mother on this topic. She has noted that she doesn’t like the slogan and thinks it should be different. When I made the point you have, she decided that she agreed with the point and that a different slogan would matter little. And yet…she keeps going back to insisting the slogan needs to change.
    I do sort of understand that Charlie Brown effect, let’s call it. (Charlie Brown syndrome, maybe?) It’s annoying that Lucy won’t hold the football in place and since we can’t force her to change, we think maybe if we change in just the right way, we’ll influence her into going along. The alternative is admitting the obvious that Lucy is mean and isn’t going to change, which is going to leave a feeling of hopelessness. I get not wanting to feel that way.
    For additional context, my mother lives in North Dakota and is surrounded by Lucy’s.

  3. says

    I couldn’t provide evidence for this, but I think that part of the reason so many people cling to the hope that this time she’ll hold the football is that they don’t know any other way to get political change.

    I don’t know to what degree traditional protest was ever effective, but it clearly isn’t, these days, and I think people have sort of given up on anything but desperately trying to persuade people who don’t want to listen.

  4. marner says

    This is a bit of a rant, but I’m tired of this argument…
    According to a a September 2021 Pew poll, 25% of adults who are Democrats/Lean Democrat support decreased police spending in their area. 15% of adults overall support it. Hell, only 23% of Black adults support it. My Democratic U.S. House Rep is bending over backwards to show how much she supports the police and police funding. When are Progressives going to figure out that decreasing police funding and the marketing phrase “Defund the Police” are fucking losers?

    You want EMT’s and social workers to respond to calls? Do it like Denver and add additional money. Show that it works (and it does).

    Want more accountability? Insist on the proper use of body cams and that union contracts allow for a reasonable path to get rid of bad cops. Stop whining and splaining why your precious slogan isn’t accomplishing anything.

  5. abilene says

    a thought: ‘defund the police’ isn’t so much a slogan as it is an explicit policy goal. reducing it to a pithy slogan meant to compete for space amongst other pithy slogans, instead of a demand for justice for the victims of police brutality, turns human pain and suffering into a horrifyingly empty pastiche of itself.

    it is okay to speak with honesty and conviction when challenging oppression.

    a second thought: last year, the voters of minneapolis chose not to defund their police. the split, however, was 44% in favor and 56% opposed. considering the very concept of defunding the police only entered the public consciousness about a year and a half prior to this vote, getting this close to success so soon seems really impressive. i can’t think of any other recent policy this radical that has come so close to electoral success.

  6. says


    When are Progressives going to figure out that decreasing police funding and the marketing phrase “Defund the Police” are fucking losers?

    Oh, we know it’s a loser.

    We know it’s a loser exactly like school desegregation was a loser. And what happened? Charles Hamilton Houston got Missouri ex. rel Gaines v. Canada decided favourably in SCOTUS after only 16 years of working in obscurity, with no one and nothing validating his fight. And exactly 16 years after that, Houston’s apprentice Thurgood Marshall argued and won Brown v Board of Ed (Topeka, Kansas). And 13 years after that Thurgood Marshall was put on SCOTUS himself. 5 to 9 years after that we had Boston whites rioting over integration. And 6 years after that, desegregation was accepted as an ethical duty of government, with Marshall sitting on the court for another 11 years to enforce it.

    From idea to unquestioned historical victory took more than 50 years.

    But I’m sure it would have happened if Houston had just conceded in 1922 that it was a loser idea and not worked on it. If he hadn’t worked on it for 16 years, surely the State of Missouri would have permitted Black college graduates to enter its law schools BEFORE 1938. Surely Houston’s headstrong insistence on the moral duty of government not to discriminate in education on the basis of race delayed the ultimate victory. Surely Missouri would have done the right thing a decade earlier, and Topeka, Kansas would have been integrated by the time the US entered WW2.

    Surely if Houston had only shut up, the banks in Boston wouldn’t have redlined real estate loans, and thus diversifying previously all white neighborhoods without any government action. Surely, then, bussing would have been unnecessary and no white mothers would have screamed the n-word at Boston’s Black children.

    Surely, surely, the right thing to do when a good policy is unpopular is to just give up.

    We should all curse Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall to this very day.

  7. says

    What Crip Dyke said.

    I know that the Democratic Party has normalized sacrificing everything they claim to believe in to “win”, but unlike them, I actually want things to change. That’s rarely popular at the beginning, which is a terrible reason not to try.

  8. marner says

    I admit to seeking immediate changes. And you write beautifully, but taking what we can get now is not surrendering the future. Nor do I feel that saying that the slogan and its recipe for funding is ineffective (currently anyway) an admission that we need to tolerate police brutality.

    The Minneapolis vote is a good counterpoint, but if it isn’t going to pass there, where is it going to pass? I would add that New York City recently elected a former cop mayor and Seattle elected a Republican prosecutor. I guess we’re going to get more data points in two weeks.

    You use examples of incrementalism to decry an incremental approach in funding nonpolice responders and a method to better hold police accountable. While still proclaiming a message that helps keep that from happening. Me thinks you are way too tied to the ineffective slogan.

    I’m a little confused. I am advocating for all three of the goals the video says that “Defund the Police” is trying to accomplish – except the reallocate part. How is that sacrificing everything? Unless the primary goal is in fact to defund the police?

  9. says

    @Marner – is that what you were advocating? Seems like you were saying we shouldn’t advocate for “defund” because that idea is, and I quote, “a fucking loser.” As to sacrificing everything, what comes immediately to mind is the way the leadership of the Democratic Party continually supports anti-abortion candidates and judges, in the name of “winning”.

    Like it’s a game, and what matters is that they win elections, rather than getting any kind of results.

    Of course I would support more money going to other aspects of the community, and of course I support pushing for that directly.

    But doing so instead of advocating for defunding and abolition, because that’s unpopular and “a loser” idea? To me that reads as giving up on the people whose lives are being actively destroyed by the police, so yes – defunding the police is also a goal all by itself. Because they do far, far more harm than good, and because having a class of people with power over everyone else very clearly leads to violence, death, and corruption. We already have ample evidence that more police funding does not work, and that more community support does actually reduce crime and improve people’s lives. The folks who oppose police reform don’t care. Keep in mind that people have been pushing for changes like this for longer than I’ve been alive, and have been talking about the “positive” end of things that whole time, and have even made successful progress on it, only to have their work destroyed by conservatives.

    Also keep in mind that – as I’ve mentioned before, police as they currently exist actively destroy lives in many more ways than just murder, including stealing from the poor and powerless, locking people up on bullshit charges, making people late to things, and so on. “Defund the police” came to be because the movement for police reform and the movement for community betterment aren’t meaningfully separate, and have the same opponents. Not to mention that cops actively do shit like destroying food, water, and medicine people are giving to folks who’re unhoused, and actively destroy community resources so they can get better at waging war on those communities.

    It’s like saying we should just focus on how good renewable energy is, because ending fossil fuel use is unpopular – trying to put that on the back burner because it upsets people won’t address the reason behind the propaganda campaign to prevent anything from changing. They’ll just make shit up about renewable energy. Like it or not, the police – and those working to keep them from losing any power – are an enemy in this fight. They are actively working to stop anything that might disempower them in any way, just as they’ve always actively worked to get rid of any “good” cops.

    Is that “the primary goal”? I dunno, is the primary goal of climate action to get a more sustainable society, or just to end carbon dioxide emissions? Seems like it should be both, shouldn’t it?

    Edit: In both the climate change example, and the police example, the phrase “justice delayed is justice denied” comes to mind. Delay mean more lives destroyed, and cops have a habit of targeting activists on the left, and activists who aren’t white.

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