Getting Serious About Cops: The Call to Defund the Police

On Friday December 18, 2020, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Editorial Board published an article criticizing activists for calling to defund the Pittsburgh police. It claimed that we actually need more police, and that decreasing the police budget would result in less public safety and increased crime — assertions that were backed by the following pieces of evidence: “Duh” and “Duh, squared.”

If the Editorial Board had bothered to actually research this issue, it perhaps would have learned that these claims were baseless. While an array of non-violent and largely innocuous behavior is criminalized in this country, violent crime — the kind of crime we think about reducing to make our communities safer — only accounts for a sliver of what police spend their time on. Only 1% of all 911 calls are for violent crime, and police spend less than 4% of their time responding to or following up on violent crime.

But the movement to defund the police is not only aimed at reducing excessive spending; it also seeks to reduce the power of a consistently racist, brutal, and oppressive organization. Data from the Pittsburgh Police’s yearly report shows that while Black people only account for 23% of the City’s population, they accounted for 44% of individuals involved in traffic stops, even though only 61% of Black residents in Pittsburgh own a motor vehicle, compared to 89% of white residents. Black residents also accounted for 71% of all frisks, 69% of individuals subject to warrantless search and seizures, and 63% of all arrests conducted by the Pittsburgh Police. And over 60% of the time the police used force, it was against Black residents.

The police also conducted warrantless searches and seizures against children nearly 400 times in 2019 alone — 83% of the time it was against Black children. In the same year, Black children accounted for 100% of children ages 10 and under against whom warrantless searches and seizures were conducted. Racist policing is largely to blame for why Allegheny County, whose population is only 13% Black, has a jail population that is currently 68% Black.

One can only ask, in the ever-eloquent words of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Editorial Board:

“Are these people for real?

Select pages from the report. View the entire publication here.



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Abolitionist Law Center

Abolitionist Law Center

ALC is a nonprofit law firm fighting to protect prisoners, and a community organizing project aiming to build a world without prisons.