August 13, 2020


Across the country Americans are demanding an end to police violence in their communities, with different activist groups calling for different solutions. Chief among these are reform, defund and abolish. These terms are used a lot in the media, often interchangeably, but they are actually separate and distinct points along a continuum.

Police reform refers to efforts to improve existing departments by addressing their values, policies and practices. Measures, which often translate into increased funding for departments, include requiring special training, revising old policies, making declarations and changing hiring procedures. Reformers believe police are mostly nonviolent aside from a few “bad apples.”

Defunding the police involves slashing department budgets, forcing them to downsize and minimize their operations. Defunding could be complete or partial, and some law enforcement capacity may be retained. The second part of the defunding strategy invests the money saved back into the local community in the form of infrastructure, education and social services. Proponents of defunding believe police violence is a symptom of a larger problem.

The abolitionist movement takes defunding one step further by seeking a completely new system of public safety constructed on class equality and supported by a team of “nonviolent emergency responders.” As with defunding, police budgets would go toward meeting community needs. Abolitionists believe police would be obsolete if people had more access to social services, jobs and education.


Each of the three solutions has its supporters and detractors. Ultimately, it is up to towns and cities to decide which makes the most sense for them.

#8CantWait is a police reform campaign that lays out eight actions departments can adopt to prevent the killing of civilians. These include banning chokeholds, requiring more comprehensive reporting and requiring a duty to intervene. Many major cities have already adopted all eight policies, including Cincinnati, Denver, San Francisco, St. Louis and Tucson.

Black Lives Matter supports defunding the police, as do the American Civil Liberties Union and the Movement for Black Lives. The Seattle City Council recently voted to cut its police funding by $4 million. It is among 12 cities actively exploring defunding their police departments to some degree, including New York and Los Angeles.

Groups like Critical Resistance are pushing for abolition. The campaign #8toAbolition was created in response to the #8CantWait campaign and lays out eight steps to radically transform policing, including removing police from schools, freeing people from jails and providing housing. Minneapolis, which is at the heart of the nation’s debate on police violence, is currently hearing arguments for the abolition of its police department.

Resistance Resources

#8CantWait is a police reform campaign focusing on use of force
Black Lives Matter is a global movement defending Black lives
American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit defending human rights
Movement for Black Lives is a space for Black organizations to come together
#8toAbolition is a police abolition campaign
Critical Resistance is a police abolition group

This brief was compiled by Laura Plummer. To add your organization as a resource, contact

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