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Powering Up With Power of Two: What Does Defunding The Police Mean?

Primer for Powering Up With Power of Two (1)

The term “Defund the Police” is one that incorporates into its formation many intersecting issues in our city and in our nation’s history. In order to lay out the framework for understanding the issues underlying this call to action, it is useful to look at the larger systemic issues that have led to the overpolicing of BIPOC communities, often with lethal consequences. To do so, Power of Two has put together the following reference source that also includes information from our community partner, VOCAL NEW YORK’s “Caring and Compassionate New Deal for New York City. (CCND)”. (https://www.vocal-ny.org/publications/ccnewdeal)

To begin, the CCND looks at the call to defund the police as a reallocation of the funds currently given to the law enforcement and carceral systems and, instead, as funds that should rightfully be allocated instead into initiatives and programs that deal with the housing and mental health/substance abuse that are currently policed instead of addressed. As noted by the CCND, “increased policing has proven itself, time and again, to be an ineffective and dangerous way to address issues of homelessness, mental health needs and substance abuse. We need a massive investment of resources and a restructuring of government agencies to tackle homelessness, mental illness and high-risk drug use. These are the intersecting issues – along with systemic racism – that underpin our criminal legal system, disproportionately burden low-income communities of color, and entrench the marginalization of hundreds of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers.” 

Currently, $14 billion in New York’s tax dollars are used to prop up the city’s law enforcement, courts and corrections systems. $11 billion for the NYPD, $456 million for the five district attorneys and the citywide Special Narcotics Prosecutor and $2,6 billion for corrections. The NYPD operating budget “is more than the city spends on health, homeless services, youth development and workforce development combined. Currently, for every dollar allocated to the NYPD and city corrections, 29 cents are given towards the department of Health, 19 cents towards Housing Preservation and Development and a penny towards workforce development.

Despite the massive operating budgets of these law enforcement and carceral systems “the continued existence of mass homelessness and record-high rates of fatal overdoses – after decades of criminalization- shows the inability of police, courts and jails to solve these issues. The vast majority of police hours are spent doing things that a growing majority of people believe should be done by another profession. Across the country just 4 percent of police hours are spent addressing “violent crime”. Responding to mental health calls, homelessness and drug use should not be the purview of the police. The police, with unlimited resources have failed to end these social ills. 

As an entity steeped in a racist beginning, the police forces of the country have continued the work of racial oppression by targeting the most marginalized communities for punitive actions that have caused trauma, tangible harm and death within these same communities, aided by the outsized financial might of their operating budgets. A reallocation of funding must begin immediately. 

The criminalization of BIPOC communities is one that has several intersecting players aiding in this mission, including the NYPD, the Media and the War on Drugs along with systemic racism and its ensuing issues of poverty and disenfranchisement.

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