As nationwide protests over high-profile police killings enter their second week, a diverse group of more than 200 civil rights leaders, elected officials, faith leaders, academics, public defenders, and community-led organizers have come together to call on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer to reduce federal funding for police departments and redirect the money to programs designed to aid historically over-policed communities.
In an open letter, the coalition calls on Pelosi and Schumer to amend the recently passed HEROES Act to shift the $300 million allocated toward the “hiring and rehiring of additional career law enforcement officers” to non-law enforcement emergency response services. The letter also calls for the discontinuation of the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, citing concerns that it has led to a dramatically increased presence of federal law enforcement officers in some major cities. Signers say the COPS budget should then be redirected to local and state governments to build out non-law enforcement expertise in responding to calls for service.
“Police departments are already over-funded,” said signer Alex S. Vitale, Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project. “They make up as much as 40 percent of cities’ budgets. We should redirect federal funding to housing, education, and health initiatives.”
The letter comes amid global protests against police brutality and racism in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. The demonstrations have been centered not only around these latest tragic incidents, but a broader crisis in policing in the United States that has been fueled in part by federal funding for local law enforcement. The signers argue that those funds are needed elsewhere, especially as the global pandemic has caused the highest unemployment levels since the Great Depression, leaving tens of millions of Americans struggling to pay for essentials, including rent or mortgage, and exposing how a lack of universal health care jeopardizes the health and safety of the entire nation.
“So, today our solutions must change the ways our communities work by shrinking the overall footprint of the criminal legal system, including police, in our country — and by investing the savings in areas that truly will make us safer,” the letter reads. “The federal government can and should lead the way.”