Across protests in the US a furious call is going out to “defund the police”.
It’s a cry of rage against the thugs who have repeatedly carried out murders.
But the idea of what it actually means is very different for different people.
For many defunding means taking some money away from police departments and using those funds for community projects and key services.
For others, it will mean the removal of all the money and closing down the present police departments.
In a video posted on social media the mayor of Minneapolis, Democrat Jacob Frey, tells a crowd of protesters, “I do not support the full abolition of the police.”
They were rightfully enraged. Frey was elected on a promise to transform the way the police behaved, but he does not want to seem too radical.
The city’s police department is particularly rancid and has a terrible racist record.
Cops killed 30 people between 2000 and 2018 and most of them were black in a city with a black population of less than 20 percent.
Police records show at least 237 instances of police using “neck restraints” during arrests, leaving 44 people unconscious.
Three-fifths of those left unconscious were black. It will take more than honey words to change this.
But within days, recognising the scale of the fury, nine of the City Council’s 12 members appeared with activists and vowed to start the city’s police force over again.
Council member Jeremiah Ellison promised that the council would “dismantle” the department.
Lisa Bender, the council president, said, “Our efforts at incremental reform have failed, period.”
She added that council members were determined “to end policing as we know it and recreate systems that actually keep us safe”.
Now the arguments really begin.
In capitalist society the police play a particular role.
Sometimes they do it with a smile, sometimes with a snarl—and always with the violence they think necessary and can get away with.
In the past four decades, the cost of policing in the US has tripled and now stands at over £90 billion. That steady increase comes as crime has consistently declined.
The role of the police is to defend property and the existing order. And they act in the divisive and racist way that the bosses’ society requires to survive. The police are trained to see working class people as the enemy.
To their core they reflect racist, sexist and transphobic ideas that are pushed from the top of society.
The police disproportionately target petty crime in poorer areas and don’t often touch crimes perpetrated by those at the top of society.
Socialist Worker stands with those who want to take all the money from the police.
In the same way we oppose the Tory government’s extra funding for the cops.
And we were against Labour’s plans to recruit an extra 20,000 police at the last election.
It is very welcome that there is a debate about defunding the police.
It needs to go to their very essence and look for the removal of the cops as part of the fight for a revolutionary transformation of society.
Violence comes from cops
Attempts to discredit the movement with denunciations of violence have so far largely failed.
Boris Johnson said the protests had been “subverted by thuggery,” and that violence was a “betrayal” of the cause.
But this just fuelled the anger of the protesters.
Yet the idea that violence discredits a movement can be a powerful and divisive one.
Usually when violence occurs on a demonstration, it’s because police have attacked it or tried to break it up—as they did in London at the end of the demonstration last Saturday.
A cop on horseback charged into the crowd, only to run into a traffic light and fall from her horse.
There was a feeling that the cops had got a bit of a comeuppance.
It was just a fraction of the violence meted out by police on a daily basis.
In a movement that has erupted against police brutality, denunciations of violence against protesters should have little sway.
The source of the violence is the state and the cops.
US civil rights leader Martin Luther King was right to say in 1967 that “riots are the language of the unheard”.
People are right to fight back—peacefully or otherwise.
Don’t line up with Tory criticisms
Government ministers have lined up to tell people not to go to protests of more than six people “in the interest of not spreading the virus”.
It is the most disgusting hypocrisy.
This is the government whose reckless policies have allowed coronavirus to kill tens of thousands of people.
It is also now seeking to dismantle restrictions far in advance of when it is safe to do so.
If it was really concerned about health it wouldn’t be reopening schools in England more widely or forcing people back to unsafe workplaces to restart profit-making.
Of course there are real issues about spreading the virus in crowds—particularly among black and Asian people who have died disproportionately from the disease.
People on the demonstrations are not unaware of such considerations.
Most protesters wear masks and many employ other safety measures.
Wherever possible it’s good to have socially-distanced protests.
They can be powerful, as we saw last week.
But nobody should take any lessons from the Tories or the police.
Their only concern is to drive protests off the streets.
And socialists should stand unconditionally with those who are not prepared to wait or to postpone taking to the streets against the vile racism of society.
All the forms of protest we have seen over Black Lives Matter should be celebrated as a wholly welcome revival of resistance.
We need more of them, drawing in wider layers of people and linking up with other struggles to make this moment really count.