Calls to defund the police continue in the wake of Toronto City councilor Josh Matlow’s motion to take at least 10% (or 122 million dollars) of the police budget and reallocate it. Matlow’s motion was made without consulting the communities most affected and was not a permanent cut, but part of the 2020 budget only. Desmond Cole says it was a proposal that “answered a question no one was asking,” and a way to placate Black and Indigenous communities, rather than get to the real problem, which is the systemic discrimination embedded in the institution of the police.
But what do we mean when we say “defund the police.” Is it a call for reform? Abolition? The answer is really both. For some the answers to the problems with policing — the police shooting and killing of people with mental health issues, the poor, Black, Indigenous, and people who are marginalized — lies in reform. For others, defunding is a step towards abolishing the institution of the police and developing safety measures for our communities that are more caring and that get to the root of the problems that we generally call police for.
It is not a case of today we have police and tomorrow we do not. Neither is it a call to take money from policing and just hand it over to educational departments, social workers, etc. without real planning and, more importantly, without dialogue with those in communities most affected by policing.
As a start, we have a 911 system that is called for any kind of emergency. Often this means that police respond. But if someone is calling, for example, the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, looking for help to bring someone to CAMH, would it not be more helpful to send someone with experience and training in mental health issues? Had that been the case, Regis might still be alive. A reallocation of funds could be spent in developing a 911 system that sends police only when absolutely necessary.
Defunding means putting money back into community centres, establishing programs that cater to a community’s issues, and keeping police out of schools. It means putting more money into prevention: better access to medical care, safe injection sites to help eliminate overdoses, more money into schools in the form of counselors, psychologists, and food programs for those who need it. It means more money for affordable housing to help people who are homeless get off the street. Defunding the police is about developing programs and systems that would make us all feel safer.
Lynda Garcia, policing campaign director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in the U.S. states that “A budget is a moral document, and where cities invest their money speaks to their values.” The current police budget in the city of Toronto is 1.2 billion dollars, 90% of which pays for police salaries. It increases every year while monies for social programs continue to have to “find efficiencies.” Is this the city we want to live in?
To learn more about policing and defunding, see the bulletins of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition: https://www.tpac.ca/bulletins.php
From Black Lives Matter: https://defundthepolice.org/canada
Resources from defund.ca: https://defund.ca/e-learning-on-defunding