“Defund the police” is the wrong phrase, and it may cause the same problems as other ill-conceived phrases.
Take “global warming.” If you want to alarm people about a coming disaster, don’t refer to warmth. Everyone likes warm-hearted friends, warm spring days, and other kinds of warmth, so it might not seem so bad if the planet warms up by a degree or two. Calling it global warming may have kept people from understanding how serious the problem is.
Or “white privilege”: That one’s supposed to make my fellow palefaces realize that we enjoy special status. Instead, it just makes most of them mad: “I started without much and worked hard all my life. No one gave me any privileges.”
So it goes with “defund the police.” It sounds like its proponents want to get rid of the police completely. (Some proponents do. Most don’t.) The phrase is almost guaranteed to panic the millions of Americans who see cops as the people who keep them safe from crime.
As I understand it, “defund the police” actually means “divert some police funds to other uses.” We burden cops with jobs that they shouldn’t have to do. See a mentally ill or homeless guy wandering the neighborhood? Don’t call a mental health specialist or a city official who can direct the guy to a place that can take care of him. Just call the cops.
Even some cops say that they shouldn’t have all the duties that we dump on them. Dallas police chief David Brown has said, “Every societal failure, we put it off for the cops to solve. Schools fail, give it to the cops. Seventy percent of the African American community is being raised by single women. Let’s give it to the cops to solve that as well. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
To alarm the public about global warming, don’t call it global warming; call it climate crisis. To help white people accept their relatively high status, don’t call it a privilege; call it an advantage (only a favored few receive privileges, but anyone can have an advantage). And to help people accept removing responsibilities from cops, don’t call to defund the police.
Change the police, demilitarize the police, even liberate the police. But “defund the police” is the wrong slogan.