Trevor Noah brought on several guests to The Daily Show on Tuesday night for a roundtable discussion on the recent protests against police brutality and what demonstrators’ calls for “defunding” or “abolishing” the police actually mean.
Black Lives Matter Co-founder Patrisse Cullors noted that the movement to end systemic racism in the U.S. has radically shifted over the past seven years since BLM was created. It’s no longer enough for elected officials to say “black lives matter” over “all lives matter” — those words have to have substance and real policy change behind them.
“Which is why ‘defund the police’ has become such a huge and resounding call,” Cullors explained. “I’m really proud of the conversation that we’re having, not just a movement, but as American people and people living outside this country.”
Noah questioned Sam Sinyangwe, policy analyst and co-founder of Campaign Zero, about his organization’s recent 8 Can’t Wait police reform initiative, which has been criticized as an insufficient solution in a time where many activists are calling for a complete police divestment.
“We recognize that these are things that cities can do right now — a mayor can do it, a police chief can do it,” Sinyangwe said, referring to the initiative’s call for banning chokeholds, requiring verbal warnings from officers before shooting and other harm reduction demands. “But I think ultimately, where the country is right now, is striving for a lot more. It’s not just about harm reduction, it’s about how do we actually move towards transformational change.”
Cullors dove into policy changes that would come with defunding the police and redirecting that money toward other areas of community health and safety. Instead of criminalizing the homeless, Cullors said, the money used to fund police arrests could instead be redirected toward public housing. Instead of calling the police on someone in a mental health crisis, those funds could go toward hiring more social workers for the city.
Noah admitted to professor and The End of Policing author Alex S. Vitale that he struggles with the concept of a police-free world, to which Vitale responded that “defund the police” is both a call for immediate legislative change and a radical line of thought for a new generation of young people.
“[They’re] crying out for a world that isn’t driven by racial and class inequalities that are enforced by policing,” Vitale said. “And the sad truth is that that has been the role that police have played in American society. … Police abolition is about trying to reduce the burden of policing today while we work to build something better for the future.”
“We say ‘abolish the police’ because we mean ‘abolish the police,'” writer Mychal Denzel Smith added. “Tell me something right now that the police are good at, other than whooping ass. Other than doing that, what are they good at? They don’t prevent murders, they come in and try to figure out who did the murder afterward. And they don’t do any of the things they’re sent out to do –—like Patrisse is telling us, we want them to ‘solve’ homelessness, but what that just means [for them] is get the homeless people out of the street.”
Journalist and lawyer Josie Duffy Rice noted: “One of the things people say when you want to defund the police is, ‘But what about murder? What about rape? What if your kid got kidnapped?’…The reality is that the police aren’t doing a very good job of handling those situations and that when we picture accountability in this country, we’re relying on a violent system to reduce violence. We’re relying on a cruel system to reduce cruelty. And we are funding the back end of social ills instead of the front end of addressing them. It’s very hard to imagine a world where we’re defunding the police because it’s all we’ve had to rely on. We’re imagining a new world.”