Leftists Have Been Calling to ‘Defund the Police’ for Over a Decade

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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

Protests to defund the police continued throughout 2016 across the country, appearing to gain steam during the summer, ahead of the presidential election.

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 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.

Anti-police demands continued through the 2016 presidential election.

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.

Calls to defund the police continued with vigor throughout 2018, as U.S. congressional mid-term elections approached.

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.

Throughout this time, BYP100 continued their campaign, urging activists in their own cities to take up the cause.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

The movement continued throughout 2019 and spring 2020, though it did not gain any major attention.

Some activists in late 2019 complained about the lack of “mega rich donor backing” for the anti-police movement.

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.

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.”

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