The Policy of Black Lives Matter

This past summer, legions of people took to the streets of their cities, tense, masked, and six feet apart. They gathered to protest the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as well as the other unarmed Black people who have died at the hands of law enforcement. Gathering under the general affiliation of the Black Lives Matter movement, protestors here in Georgia and across the nation chanted slogans such as “No Justice, No Peace” and “Defund the Police.”

These protests, and the resulting clashes with local police and the national guard, have become the center of a hurricane of ideological debate. Protestors have been labeled as everything from terrorists to activists.[1]

But what, exactly, divorced from partisan rhetoric, do the protesters want in terms of actionable policy?

Defunding the Police

No demand from protesters across the nation has garnered more controversy than the call to defund the police. Simply put, “defunding the police” means diverting some of the funds currently allotted to law enforcement to other social service professionals like social workers and mental health specialists that are better equipped to handle specific issues, such as people who are facing mental health crises and the pressures of generational poverty.[2] This demand is not generally used in the sense that the police should be completely abolished, although certain cities, such as Minneapolis – the city where George Floyd was killed, have called to remove their police forces and replace them with a community-run public safety model.[3] Of course, even the idea of cutting back on police funding has proven a hotly contested issue, given the amount of money usually spent on the police and related sectors – the Atlanta City Council approved a budget this year that allocates about a third of of the city’s $670 million general fund to the police.[4] In Athens, there was a proposed reform this past summer to cut the police force and accompanying funding in half over the next 10 years, but it did not pass.[5]

However, it is very likely that for notable change to take place, the structure of public safety will have to incorporate significant changes and other agents than the police in coming years.

Police Reform

While defunding the police has been controversial, some government officials have been more willing to embrace reforming the police instead, which has generally meant restricting the ability of police officers to use lethal force and requiring more training. This June, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued two executive orders to this end.[6] The first required officers to intervene and restrict other officers from using unreasonable deadly force, placed restrictions on officers’ ability to fire at a moving vehicle, instituted further de-escalation training, and required that all uses of deadly force be reported to a citizens’ review board. The second executive order required that further potential reforms be researched and where necessary, implemented. It  remains to be seen what specific reforms this second order will cause – only time will tell. At the end of the day, significant structural changes leading to concrete results will have to take place to consider police reforms a victory for Black Lives Matter.

Removal of Confederate Monuments

The call to remove Confederate monuments has also been met with some success. In Athens, Conyers, and Decatur, local governments have made the decision to remove public monuments commemorating the Confederate movement.[7] In Athens especially, the removal of the monument from the middle of downtown was seen as a victory from protestors, who before its removal had covered it in “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” graffiti.

Further Related Policy

In addition to calling for policy reform on issues that directly concern police brutality and systemic racism, protesters have also frequently called for an overhaul on issues that include ending cash bail, decriminalizing sex work, removing the police from schools and banning “stop and frisk” police searches. [8]