I am doing some research into the Defund the police-movement, and am finding increasingly contradictory information, and so my basic question is, is the movement anti-police or not?

On one hand, you see proponents of the movement argue that the police is inefficient, overly authoritarian, and racist, and the movement justifies defunding it based on an inherent anti-police stance. Some sources for this is the wikipedia article for the movement itself (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defund_the_police) or the events at CHAZ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitol_Hill_Autonomous_Zone) and associated protests. Basically, these protestors main argument for wanting to defund the police is that ... well, they simply don't like them.

Then there are other protestors who also claim to be a part of the movement yet make a completely different argument. These people claim to be pro-police, but feel that the police are "overburdened" and that a re-distribution of the funding will make all sides better off, since there will be less crime occuring due to the effects of certain social programs, and thus police would have less work to do, and everybody is better off. This is e.g. the argument John Oliver claims is the basis of the movement (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf4cea5oObY). So this is certainly NOT an anti-police stance.

Clearly, you can see why I'm confused. So my question is, what actually is "Defund the police" all about? Is it about the former or the latter?

I maintain that this question is answerable, because every movement has a genesis, a source. What I mean is: who started the movement first? When was the slogan first used, and by whom? If we can track down these initial protestors, and query them for their opinion, I think it can be established what the movement is actually about.

Doing some research suggests that the movement is anti-police, since it can e.g. be traced back to W.E.B. Du Bois claiming in his book that white police force needs to be abolished, and since the movement is very obviously tied to the black lives matter movement. Although I cannot be sure of these statements, hence why I came to you.

TLDR: Is the "Defund the police"-movement, regardless of what any random adherent of the movement claims it is, historically rooted in inherently anti-police sentiments, and having nothing to do with some sort of moral desire to reduce crime, as purported by some today?

EDIT: Let me stress: I am NOT interested in the argument provided by any SOLE individual claiming to be a member of this movement. I am interested in the ROOTS and ACTUAL INTENT of the movement, and I believe there should be means to trace these roots, which may go as far back as to the origin of current protests (death of George Floyd) or indeed even further back, to the civil rights movement and beyond.

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    I am not sure "Defunding the police" is cohesive enough to be called a movement. It's a slogan used by people with quite a variety of positions, some of which are very distinct from actually eliminating police altogether. I heard one person say that when they said it, they actually meant merely demilitarizing police forces. Just because W.E.B. Du Bois (for instance) made a similar argument, that does not mean that modern-day groups making the same argument can be traced back to him, let alone that they would agree that they actually wanted the same thing.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jul 19, 2020 at 18:13
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    Voting to close as opinion-based. Despite the unsupported assertion to the contrary, I see no way to objectively define the real/authentic/original current within a movement where liberal/reformist and radical/abolitionist currents have both existed all along.
    – Brian Z
    Jul 19, 2020 at 18:25
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    "Proponents of the movement argue that the police is inefficient, overly authoritarian, and racist...[others] feel that the police are "overburdened" and that a re-distribution of the funding will make all sides better off." Why can't both be true?
    – John Wu
    Jul 19, 2020 at 18:43
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    What does "anti-police" mean?
    – gktscrk
    Jul 19, 2020 at 19:26
  • This question ought to be reopened, maybe with a few revisions. It's easy enough to explain the basic argument behind the slogan while noting that the movement itself is not particularly cohesive. Jul 20, 2020 at 0:34

1 Answer 1


'Defund the police' is a slogan, not a fully articulated policy position. Different people and groups will use and interpret it in different ways, and will do so inconsistently with each other. That will be the case until some cohesive group takes up the banner of that slogan and articulates it in a generally accepted way.

Grass-roots movements often start from vague rallying cries that later evolve into clear positions, but that evolution has not yet occurred in this case.

The general observation that lies behind this particular rallying cry is that — nationwide, and on all levels of government, and through various means — police forces have managed to secure significant funding that has allowed them to:

  • Acquire military grade hardware and tactical gear for domestic deployment
  • Increase both the prevalence and sophistication of surveillance over citizens
  • Expand prison and jail capacity so that more people can be incarcerated
  • Insulate themselves against lawsuits and civil controls, through legal actions and political influence

This has had some significant consequences. On one hand, police (obviously) use the equipment and impunities they have, meaning that their treatment of citizens — from criminals to peaceful protesters to mere bystanders — has become increasingly aggressive, intimidating, and physically dangerous. No-knock warrants, indiscriminate use of chemical agents, life-threatening restraint techniques, and overwhelming (and overwhelmingly expensive) shows of force have led to an oppressive atmosphere that in many cases makes police seem like an occupying military force meant to suppress citizens, not a public service meant to aid citizens. On the other hand, this shift of funding towards police has had a significant impact on other governmental functions and social services. Mental health treatment, drug treatment, social services, and other public welfare activities that might ultimately reduce the incidence of crime have seen their budgets slashed as police and sheriff's offices have become increasingly better funded. This has led (as some have pointed out) to a situation where police are obliged to take over tasks that other agencies would be far better suited for, because police have the funding those other agencies lack. One needs only look at cases like the notorious Rampart scandal to get a feel for the problem, where police corruption and abuse ultimately generated an increase in police budgets and a greater drain on public treasuries as lawsuits against the city were settled.

The essential idea behind the slogan 'Defund the Police', thus, is that citizens should take back money that police are (currently) using to create overwhelming physical dominance — something most citizens do not want in their relationship to police — and reallocate that funding to social and civic agencies, institutions, infrastructures, and policies that are more productive for the general citizenry. Cutting police budgets would simultaneously mean that police have less capacity for outright violent suppression, and that other activities would gain access to funding currently denied them. There is great disagreement on how far this should be pursued: more radical elements hold that police should be cut back to bare minimum or abolished entirely, while moderates merely look for a more balanced distribution of public funding that provides for both a reasonable police force and reasonable civic services. Shifting certain activities away from police to other agencies is one tactic among many for addressing this issue, but is by no means central to the ides. But as I said, this particular rallying cry is still evolving into a final form, so we'll have to wait and see what (if anything) it amounts to.

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