What logics underlie the call to “defund the police,” and how do those logics matter in policy debate? In the wake of widespread protests after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of police violence during the summer of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement’s call to “defund the police” captured the national imagination. Several municipal governments promised to cut funding and contracts for their respective police departments, with mixed results. Because we expect police defunding and reinvestment to remain a central movement demand, this Article explores the demand’s discursive and normative terrain. It does so by describing and critically engaging three logics of criminal system alternatives that we have observed in activists’ demands and organizing efforts. Specifically, we theorize investments in social welfare, safety production, and racial reparation as deeply connected but distinct logics that might guide decisions about where and how money should be spent as part of defund initiatives, and we discuss some implications of each for transformational change within and beyond policing.



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