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Lesson Plans

What does it mean to “defund the police”?

June 9, 2020

Full Lesson



Directions: Read the news summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions.This video has been edited for length. To watch the video in its entirety or read the transcript, click here. 


Summary: After the Minneapolis city council voted on a resolution to dismantle the city’s police, national attention has turned to proposals to completely rethink law enforcement. Some activists propose abolishing or “defunding” police departments, which would involve transferring portions of police department budgets to services such as social workers, drug counseling, mental health care and community organizations.

Other advocates believe police can be reformed through additional rules and regulations without changing city budgets. PBS NewsHour interviewed Charlene Carruthers of the Movement for Black Lives and Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum for their perspectives on this national debate.

  • Carruthers argues that police departments have historical roots in systematic racism, such as enforcing Jim Crow laws or serving as slave catchers. Because of these roots, the entire institution of policing in the U.S. is deeply flawed. She believes that abolishing the police by shifting their power, money and decision making to the community is the only viable option.
  • Chuck Wexler argues that even though there are 18,000 police departments across the country, there are no up-to-date national standards or guidelines on the use of force. Nevertheless, he says, society needs humane police for safety and control. 

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: Should police departments have some or all of their funding transferred to other services? If not, what police reforms might be most effective? 
  2. Does disbanding the police present itself as a feasible solution to police brutality? What other strategies exist for reforming police departments? Examine this NewsHour Extra daily lesson on demilitarizing the police for examples of other strategies.
  3. Do you believe there should be national standards and guidelines for police actions? Explain.
  4. According to Carruthers, how do police departments have historical ties with systemic racism?
  5. Media literacy: This NewsHour clip presents the information in a debate style interview. What advantages or disadvantages are there to this interview style?

Extension activities: 

  1. Could the Justice in Policing Act bring about real change?
  • Read the Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act. What do you think the bill is about based on its name? Democrats in the House and Senate introduced the bill which aims to curb police misconduct and use of force.
  • For the sake of time, given that the bill is 134 pages long, conduct a search of the bill (Use Find/Search CONTROL+F or COMMAND+F) using key words on the topic of police misconduct (cameras, body cameras, chokeholds, no-knock warrants, etc.).
    • What do you notice about the type of language used in the bill?
    • What are the key policies and reforms mentioned in the bill related to your word search?

2. Abolishing government departments

A 2018 poll by the Associated Press found that only a quarter of Democrats supported abolishing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Dept. of Homeland Security) even when a large percentage of those who described themselves as liberal viewed the agency negatively. ICE has drawn public condemnation for carrying out immigration raids on undocumented individuals and separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • Why do you think the vast majority of Democrats do not want to see it abolished?
  • Is it more realistic to support reforming an existing organization rather than starting a new one? Explain.
  • Can you draw any comparisons with members of the public who currently condemn police misconduct but do not support abolishing police departments? How so? If not, why not?

Today’s Daily News Story was written by EXTRA’s intern Ramses Rubio, a senior at Amherst College.

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