Defunding the police: Raleigh activists explain what the controversial concept really means

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, June 9, 2020
What does defunding the police really mean? Raleigh activists explain the concept
What does defunding the police really mean? Raleigh activists explain the concept

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- When Raleigh Demands Justice went to Raleigh City Hall last Friday with its list of demands printed boldly on black t-shirts -- number 3 on the list was "Defund the Police."

But when we snap-polled protesters in the Triangle, it was clear not everyone is certain what the term means or sold on the concept.

"I'm not sure defunding the police is the way to go," said Jasmine Smith. "I do think we really need to look at policing."

When protesters cry 'defund the police,' what does it mean?

"You have to know what you mean by defining defunding. Or is it really restructuring," Altha Trowell said.

"I don't necessarily support defunding the police probably because I don't know all that it entails," Queron Smith said.

Attorney Dawn Blagrove, one of the lead organizers for Raleigh Demands Justice, spoke to ABC11 to try to clear up confusion.

"I really want for this not to be a concept that feels shocking to people," Blagrove said.

One big question: Does defund the police mean abolishing the police?

"Absolutely not," Blagrove said. "What it means is making the police force lean."

Blagrove describes a gradual process.

Just like public schools have been defunded to balance budgets with less art and music classes, RDJ wants to start slicing at the City of Raleigh's nearly $110 million budget; re-allocating that money to improve the communities police serve so that fewer officers are needed.

They propose using the money instead to guarantee a living wage, stable housing and mental health professional who can respond to a 911 call about a person in mental crisis -- not a traditional police officer.

"We get rid of officers we don't need. We get rid of bad officers or officers with multiple grievances filed against them or a history of using excessive force," Blagrove said. "It means that we no longer ask law enforcement to be the mental health care providers. And we create a new paradigm shift of what community safety looks like and how we achieve it."

Yet, there's still no shortage of confusion or criticism about a disinvestment in police. The national Republican Party posted a pointed critique Monday, "You know what defunding the police does: Takes away resources from rape victims, domestic abuse victims, children who are trafficked or abused."

"Taking that money from law enforcement if that was all that was going to happen would be a disaster," Blagrove said. "But what we're saying is take that money from law enforcement and give it to the people who have been trained to deal with the trauma of being a victim of crime."

The recent move in Minneapolis to disband the city's police force to replace it with a whole new public safety agency is well past anything we've seen here. But, defunding the police, in some form, is happening in the Triangle.

It's what happened last year when Durham City Council refused the police chief's request for 18 additional officers. The mayor pro-tem argued it was time for the city to build a crisis response model outside of traditional law enforcement.