In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, protesters' signs featured calls to defuse the police, reads in etchings on the sidewalks and chants in America's streets. The request has generally been to move money from massive police budgets to social services and other local authorities, thereby reducing the role of the police. The aim was to end racist and violent black police work.
The Minneapolis City Council, seeing how Floyd's death had moved the country, took this to heart and immediately promised to devalue their department. Meanwhile, mounting pressure pushed elected officials in states like New York, Massachusetts, and Colorado not to cut police budgets but to pass reform laws, including chokehold bans, training committees, and body camera requirements.
But many of those first steps in cities and states across the country eventually stalled. For example, five months later, the battle for funding continues in Minneapolis.
And while media coverage of protests weakened in the summer, local activists continued to press for police reforms and initiatives to be put on the ballot – just as they did before the protests broke out. Their efforts, coupled with the dynamism of the protests, appear to have paid off.
While this is a contentious issue in all parties, last week in cities across six states, voters overwhelmingly approved 18 of these voting actions, including the establishment and improvement of governance bodies for the police, changes in staffing and funding for the police force, and the Demand public access to police bodies and dashboard cameras recordings. While most of these measures represent a reform move, almost none are radical when it comes to redefining the police force. Many standards are already implemented in other cities – and, according to activists, a minimum for police accountability.
On the one hand, these gains raise questions about what comes next and stimulate debate about what to do about the broken police institution – whether to fight for gradual reforms or to dismantle the entire system through defunding or even abolition should. On the other hand, the fact that voters took so much action in the first place indicates a possible tide change. Americans realize that something needs to be done about police violence and accountability.
Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, the co-director of Power Live Free, an interfaith activism group working on criminal justice issues in Philadelphia, said ballot approvals, including a civic oversight committee in his city, were only the first step in the fight for how Police should be in America.
"For me, it's about the kind of world we want to leave behind and what the police force would be like in 10 to 20 years," he said. "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
What the approved voting measures for police reform include
While some cities and states began passing police accountability laws that summer, others followed through citizen votes. In California, seven local election initiatives were passed following last week's elections. The most progressive electoral initiative was Los Angeles County Action J, also known as Reimagine LA County, which amends the county's charter and allocates 10 percent of the city's unrestricted general funding to investment in housing, mental health programs and services other alternatives to incarceration instead of jails and policing.
Although Measure J is actually a step in defunding the police force (Fesia Davenport, district executive director said the sheriff's department budget of $ 2 billion would likely be affected), the initiative did not use "defund" – Language. As Roge Karma reported for Vox, the campaign's messaging focused almost entirely on the benefits of increased investment in underserved black and brown communities. This may be in response to polls that suggest people are being turned off by the term “defunding”, even if they are concerned with the core idea behind it – the shift from police funds to social services.
"The passage of Measure J sets a new precedent for the nation to invest in care and opportunities to solve social problems rather than expanding our carcinogenic system, which has only exacerbated the causes of inequality," said Isaac Bryan, Co-chair of the Reimagine LA Coalition told Vox.
However, the police accountability measures adopted in other cities have nothing to do with defunding. One of the most popular measures approved by voters in cities across the country was the establishment of civil oversight committees, essentially designed to investigate complaints from citizens about police and police misconduct.
Portland activists have been pushing for comprehensive police reform legislation for decades as the police bureau has historically abused and killed the city's black residents. (In 2019, criminal justice activists advocated and passed a law to protect black youth. Again that year, activists struggled to increase police accountability, which stalled.) So if Measure 26-217 – which the police oversight system of Portland and create a new commission of civilian volunteers to investigate wrongdoing and allegations against the police – after a long summer of protests and clashes with police in the city, activists voted to pass. They gathered in front of the town hall and the police office. They gave presentations to elected officials. And it worked. The election measure was passed with more than 80 percent of the vote.
"I'll say I'm not surprised," said Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the key architect of Portland's recent police reform initiatives, including Measure 26-217, during a press conference on election night. "I expected our support to be overwhelming, but 80 percent send a very strong message that the community is ready for a transformation in terms of policing."
In the California cities of San Diego and San Jose, and in Sonoma County, voters have passed similar regulatory agencies. This also applies to voters in King County, Washington, home of Seattle, where Black Lives Matter protesters created an "autonomous zone" with no police, and in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where pre-election protests over police took place Shooting at Walter Wallace Jr.'s Death Even cities in red states like Columbus, Ohio, and Kyle, Texas (about 20 miles south of Austin) voted for regulators.
All of this support marks a change in the way Americans think about policing after Floyd's death, which sparked a national conversation about police violence and systemic racism. For many organizers, however, this is a long job.
Since last year, Rev. Tyler's organization has drawn up a list of demands for the Philadelphia City Council to end police brutality, gun violence and mass imprisonment. It was only after Floyd's death, when the city was looking for a quick victory to tackle national upheaval, that city officials took her seriously.
In July, Tyler began hosting a series of virtual town halls with police oversight experts to come up with ideas on how a civil oversight agency should function. Tyler said members of the supervisory board should be popularly elected, much like a school board, rather than being appointed by the city council. He also wants the Oversight Commission to have full power over police policies and strategies, including where budgets should be allocated.
"We believe that the Commission should have full power over police policy and guidelines and control the budgets for the police," he said. “We have to take politics out. This body should oversee how this budget is allocated and spent. "
Tyler also praised cities like Oakland and San Francisco, which are already expanding the power of their civil regulatory agencies. Oakland set up a supervisory board four years ago. But the city has just voted to not only strengthen the powers of the Commission but also make the Commission independent – which means that this would sever the links between the city's chain of command and the police. Activists say the move would increase police accountability and public confidence.
Other police measures approved by voters in the recent election include: reducing mandatory San Francisco police force; Using body and dash camera recordings to document use of force by Akron, Ohio police; and symbolic codification of the "Stop and Frisk" police in Philadelphia – though their passage does not completely obliterate the practice. In other words, these are all small steps in shifting police accountability.
Oluchi Omeoga – co-founder and member of the core team of the Minneapolis Black Visions Collective, one of the groups behind the push to disappoint the city's police force – said some of these police reform reform initiatives do not exactly limit or limit the power of the police force reduce police and this defusion is the way forward.
"If you look at the history of our country, the police system works the way it should, since it was created at a time when we abolished slavery," Omeoga said. "When we think about reform, there are no reforms because the system works exactly as it should. The two strategies I see are either reforming existing structures or completely abolishing and restructuring a new community security."
"We still have a long way to go"
Even under these recent wins, the pushback has already begun. The Portland Police Association filed a complaint against the city, arguing that Measure 26-217 should have been negotiated with the union before the election measure went to voters. In Minneapolis, where legislation has stalled, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo is asking other law enforcement agencies and the city council for more funds to expand staff as many police officers have been on leave.
Bryan said Reimagine LA, along with other grassroots organizations, will ensure election officials keep their promise by tracking where the money is being spent on community improvement.
"As long as we continue to see deadly encounters with law enforcement on our phones and televisions, I believe voters will continue to demand more direct action to address the causes of injustice," said Bryan. "Measure J is a strong example but I don't think it will be the last. There is still a lot to be done."
Abdirahim Mohamoud, a 17-year-old black student activist who lives in a predominantly white neighborhood about 10 miles southwest of Portland, said people should be mindful of the same challenges as racism and police violence, as well as grassroots actions in suburbs. He also fears that once the elections are over, the battle for police reform will end and a Democrat will occupy the highest place in the nation.
"I am very afraid that people will stop taking care of their votes because those ballots passed," said Mohamoud. "The lack of momentum from other people is likely to be the downfall, because this is not something that few (people) can do or I can do myself, it is group work."
Mohamoud also said that he stopped using the word "defunding" out loud because the term "became so politicized" – as a means to upset their grassroots, Republicans have often made false claims that Democratic leaders like President-elect Joe Biden have it are in favor of defusing the police. One of the few electoral actions that has caused a loss to police accountability this election cycle has been budgeting: In DuPage County, Illinois, voters overwhelmingly voted to make law enforcement and public safety financial assistance a "top budgeting priority" continue.
Omeoga, meanwhile, argues that defunding is not a view, but a tactic to rethink community policing. This includes diverting money away from the police and reinvesting it in communities, changing the way people use 911 calls when dealing with car accidents or mental health crises, and implementing solid police training that will improve relationships between communities would.
"Believe it or not, we've tried reforming the police for at least 200 years and nothing has actually been fixed because it wasn't exactly broken," Omeoga said. “Abolitionists will say that we understand that this police system is in the interests of capitalism and white supremacy. The tactic is to devalue the police to take our trust in the police and turn it into new systems of accountability and community security that don't exist. I do not rely on the state. "
For Tyler, police reform creates a path to defuse. He assumes that further initiatives for police reform will emerge in the coming votes if the city guides learn from each other. Some of the actions he expects are changes that would build on previous actions, such as the oversight commission that can hire and fire the police chief.
"This is a long haul and an ongoing national conversation," said Tyler. "It's really about citizens taking control of the police because the police have proven incapable of monitoring themselves." Glad the first step is taken, but this is a multi-year battle, not a battle with a campaign. We still have a long way to go. "
Are you helping keep Vox free for everyone?
Millions of people rely on Vox to understand how Washington policy choices, from health care to unemployment to housing, can affect their lives. Our work is well-sourced, research-oriented, and thorough. And that kind of work requires resources. Even after the economy recovers, advertising alone will never be enough to support it. If you've already contributed to Vox, thank you. If you don't, you are helping us keep our journalism free for everyone by making a financial contribution of just $ 3 today.