Calls to “defund the police” appeared to come out of nowhere to the average American — fueled by the anger over the death of George Floyd — however, such demands have been around for nearly a decade, if not longer.
The sentiment was popular among the far-left activists of the “Occupy” movement protesting economic inequality as far back as 2011.
One Occupy Oakland activist, Reginald James, tweeted on November 15, 2011: “We should occupy city hall with one demand: refund the schools and defund the police,” with a #oo hashtag that stood for “Occupy Oakland.”
“We should occupy city hall with one demand: refund the schools and defund the police” #oo
— RAsheed ☥ Shabazz (@Rasheed_Shabazz) November 15, 2011
The mentor of Black Lives Matter’s co-founder Patrice Khan-Cullors, Eric Mann, called for defunding the police as early as 2007.
“In the Black communities and Latino communities today, the police are your enemy and the police are moving against you at virtually everything you do,” he said at a lecture in 2007. “We need a reduction in the number of police.”
At another lecture in 2010, he said, “We want the social welfare state, not the police state. We want a hundred thousand more buses, new hospitals, new health clinics and public schools, and a hundred thousand less police.”
Calls to “defund the police” next gained attention in 2015 with the Chicago-based Black Youth Project 100, an organization for Black youth activists founded by University of Chicago professor Cathy Cohen in 2013.
The group released a policy agenda in 2014 that focused on “police accountability and ending mass criminalization.”
The organization mobilized around the high-profile deaths of several Black men in 2014, such as Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Laquan McDonald.
A Chicago Tribune reporter captured a photo of a protest on November 26, 2015 in which activists chanted “Defund the police.”
— Megan Crepeau (@crepeau) November 26, 2015
BYP activist Breanna Champion appeared on MSNBC on December 10, 2015. “One of our major demands is that police be defunded and that that money used to fund police be used to fund black futures and be used to fund our communities and things that we need,” she said.
— Free Beacon (@FreeBeacon) December 10, 2015
BYP100’s chapters called for defunding the police in other cities as well. The organization tweeted on January 16, 2016: “DC BYP asking that @MayorBowser defund the police and invest in schools. #BuildBlackFutures #ReclaimMLK.”
— BYP100 (@byp100) January 17, 2016
By 2016, Black and Latino activists combined forces to call for defunding the police and dismantling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Organizers with the group Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) shut down a street in Chicago in February 2016, holding a banner that called for both defunding the police and dismantling ICE.
— OCAD (@OCAD_CHI) February 16, 2016
Protests to defund the police continued throughout 2016 across the country, appearing to gain steam during the summer, ahead of the presidential election.
— #BlackLivesMatter-LA (@BLMLA) April 15, 2016
— gillian giles (@giles_gillian) July 20, 2016
— Mariah (@MariahMyriah) July 21, 2016
Anti-police protesters in New York City scored a major coup in August 2016, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio fired New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in August 2016, amid criticism of racist policing.
Then-New York University doctoral candidate and now-Northwestern University journalism professor Steven Thrasher authored a Guardian article in August 2016 with the headline: “New York’s newest protesters are right: it’s time to defund police.”
The newest occupiers in town are right: It’s time to defund the police https://t.co/ioI040H4eO
— Dr. Thrasher (@thrasherxy) August 3, 2016
The New York Times published an article in August 2016 examining “racial bias” in policing, which has since been updated to include coverage of the Trump administration.
Excessive force, unnecessary stops, unlawful searches: here’s a look at how racial bias plays out in policing https://t.co/hyshUla8vF
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 11, 2016
Anti-police demands continued through the 2016 presidential election.
— #EndIntersexSurgery (@Pidgejen) September 21, 2016
THE POLICE LIE PERIOD. DISARM THE POLICE, DEFUND THE POLICE AND DEMAND THE END OF POLICING AS WE KNOW IT. #charlotteuprising
— Rosa A. Clemente (@rosaclemente) September 25, 2016
— Esha Kaur Sarai (@egkaur) September 24, 2016
“Outside of the hands that do harm.” Then defund the police and redirect funds. They’re the ones shooting. #debatenight
— Kirsten West Savali (@KWestSavali) September 27, 2016
— PPL’s Response Team (@ChiCopWatch) October 9, 2016
The calls appeared to accelerate after the election of President Donald Trump, as angry Democrats took to the streets in response to his election and immigration policies.
Supporters of defunding the police appeared to expand from mostly Black and Latino activists to include white and socialist activists.
POC are not safe in this country. Disarm and defund the police. https://t.co/Vhgf86yVTi
— defund 12 fund black trans lives (@marybustamonte) December 22, 2016
And a child. Defund the police. Send them home. Whose streets? Our streets. https://t.co/zZiTZum1bS
— trav_stone (@trav_stone) January 20, 2017
‘Maybe the demand of BLM is the only long-term solution: defund the police and devote the $ to services & education’ https://t.co/qa2gJElgUQ
— Advancement Project National Office (@adv_project) January 25, 2017
some ways to support trans youth:
-defund the police
-give money to youth shelters
-support Black Lives Matter
— Avery Alder, Buried Without Ceremony (@lackingceremony) February 24, 2017
— WTVR CBS 6 Richmond (@CBS6) March 5, 2017
— Kati Sipp
(@KatiSipp) May 1, 2017
— Darwin BondGraham (@DarwinBondGraha) June 27, 2017
misses Michael Brooks #LeftIsBest (@JackieHardCoreG) September 10, 2017
Calls to defund the police continued with vigor throughout 2018, as U.S. congressional mid-term elections approached.
— Luzifer (@trans_lucent) January 8, 2018
De-militarize the police. Defund the police. Disband the police.
— Emily of the State (@EmilyGorcenski) February 5, 2018
Defund the police. https://t.co/vD2JIKhi0O
— pdx law grrrl (@pdxlawgrrrl) August 29, 2018
Defunding the police became an issue in the Florida gubernatorial race, with Democrat candidate Andrew Gillum signing a pledge to defund the police and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) vowing to stand up for police.
.@AndrewGillum has insulted law enforcement every step of the way. He wants to defund the police and believes they have no place in our society. As Governor, I will always stand with our heroes who wear the uniform. https://t.co/rx2P8PAq84
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantisFL) October 24, 2018
Throughout this time, BYP100 continued their campaign, urging activists in their own cities to take up the cause.
“Research and support efforts in your city to defund the police – and if those efforts aren’t already established how can you step up to make that campaign a reality?” via @BlackYouthProjhttps://t.co/7PBQFKYUwK
— RaceBaitr (@RaceBaitr) December 31, 2018
In the mid-term election, far-left candidates backed by progressive groups Justice Democrats and Democratic Socialists of America were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Shortly after their election, they began calling for defunding certain law enforcement agencies.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a month into office, called for defunding ICE during a press conference on Capitol Hill.
“We’re here to say that an agency, like ICE, which repeatedly and systematically violates human rights does not deserve a dime. They do not deserve a time,” she said. “They do not deserve any resources for their radical agenda.”
Socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) calls for ICE to be completely defunded
Earlier this week, an illegal alien MS-13 gang member, who had 12 prior arrests, allegedly murdered someone on a subway in Ocasio-Cortez’s district. pic.twitter.com/aNNyxbXUjX
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) February 7, 2019
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) starting calling for defunding not just ICE, but the entire Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which encompasses the Transportation Security Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Not one dollar for DHS,” she tweeted.
She later claimed she did not mean to defund the entire department.
When Democrats stood our ground last month, we proved that Individual 1 does not have the public support to ram his hateful wall through Congress.
Let’s stand firm: #Not1Dollar for DHS.
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) February 8, 2019
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) several months later tweeted a video of a confrontation with police where a mentally ill man died, tweeting, “I can’t stand it anymore.” The mentally ill man appeared white, however, and the incident did not receive widespread attention.
I can’t stand it anymore. The person who calls the police for help ends up face down in handcuffs, ankles restrained by plastic wire & police use the “prone position” (face down pressing their knee to your back) and he dies. The person who called for help DIES. https://t.co/xHzLeAsDV6
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) August 1, 2019
Hollywood figures such as comedian Sarah Silverman have also lent their voices to the growing anti-police sentiment.
Silverman, in June 2019, quote-tweeted an Occupy Democrats video of a police confrontation with a Black woman, calling for the police involved to be “fired and action taken.”
OTHER POLICE OFFICERS NEED TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST THIS. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEM TO WHITE PEOPLE WHEN THEIR 4 yo TAKES A BARBIE. THIS SHIT HAPPENS EVERY DAY. THESE COPS MUST BE FIRED AND ACTION TAKEN https://t.co/N2hZHnzsRF
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) June 15, 2019
The movement continued throughout 2019 and spring 2020, though it did not gain any major attention.
Adrienne (she/her) (@adrienne_cw) October 13, 2019
When did social workers become the *only* response to trauma for students? Yes, schools need social workers. & art. & sports. & music. & every other outlet that allows any person to process the world around them.
Defund the police. Fund all the supports.
— deray (@deray) October 20, 2019
I’m from Chicago, where the proposed 2020 City budget shows a $120 million increase for Chicago Police Department and a $100,000 decrease for the Department of Family and Support Services. pic.twitter.com/mqH1iGNJAM
— Charles Preston (@_CharlesPreston) October 23, 2019
defund the police https://t.co/jASZGZQIPE
— Listen to @onbeliefpod & @ongriefpodcast Li’l
(@karengeier) November 4, 2019
The police have no place in our schools PERIOD!
You know the system is racist when it’s criminalizing young people of color in an environment where they should feel safe + heard.
Defund the police state. https://t.co/S6PlL6ztsY
— Shaniyat Chowdhury (@Shaniyat2020) December 4, 2019
Abolish & defund the police and put the money toward guaranteeing housing, living wages and healthcare for the communities police regularly terrorize. https://t.co/FILmO58qOT
— Bree Newsome Bass (@BreeNewsome) December 5, 2019
Some activists in late 2019 complained about the lack of “mega rich donor backing” for the anti-police movement.
If you don’t have a university or mega rich donor backing you, you might be able stay employed, temporarily, at best. But building an organization? Changing actual policing outcomes across the country? Most funders don’t think it’s a worthwhile pursuit. Yet, the work continues.
— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) December 17, 2019
Also, very little funding for those of us saying defund the police. That all kinds of services belong in the community, not the PD. That school, housing, library, healthcare, transportation budgets should increase and police, jail, prisons budgets should decrease. https://t.co/3y94efWzo2
— Displaced (@academicworker) December 17, 2019
The defund the police movement surged in momentum after Floyd’s death in May 2020, with Democrats everywhere calling for the firing and defunding of the police.
In June 2020, after Bowser commissioned the painting of “Black Lives Matters” in front of the White House, activists were emboldened to add “Defund the police” in front of the letters.
Demonstrators in D.C painted “Defund The Police” on the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza that leads to the White House. https://t.co/aBvQBOAPpp
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) June 7, 2020
Now, the call to defund the police has made it to the 2020 presidential campaign.
When 2020 Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden was asked if he supported redirecting police funding, he responded, “Yes, absolutely.”
Joe Biden says police have “BECOME THE ENEMY” and calls for CUTTING police funding: “Yes, absolutely!” pic.twitter.com/PKXvz3zobe
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) July 8, 2020