The ACLU’s advocacy against police violence began in the 1920s, shortly after our founding, and has continued for the next 100 years. In 1931, the ACLU spearheaded the issuance of a government report, “Lawlessness in Law Enforcement.” In 1965, in response to the Watts Rebellion, the ACLU opened our first storefront office to directly document police abuse. In 1991, following the police beatings of Rodney King, the ACLU launched a fight against racial profiling, resulting in litigation and a vibrant nationwide advocacy effort. In 2015, the ACLU published “Picking up the Pieces,” a report documenting biased policing in Minneapolis. ACLU reports from New York, Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, and Nebraska have all documented police departments that reserve their most aggressive enforcement for people of color generally — and Black people in particular.
Despite the tireless work done by so many in the ACLU to address police violence in communities of color, there’s a fundamental truth that we must confront: It has not worked. Black people continue to be murdered and brutalized by police with near impunity. More of the same won’t fix this problem.
As we look to the future, the ACLU unites behind the profound fight that groups like Movement for Black Lives have been leading: the fight for a completely reimagined vision of the role, presence, and responsibilities of police in America.
The fight will be complex, but in practice what we want can be clearly stated: We need to fundamentally change the role of police in our society, and that role has to be smaller, more circumscribed, and less funded with taxpayer dollars. Money saved from reducing the size and scope of police departments must be reinvested into community-based services that are better suited to respond to actual community needs. Doing so will foster improved safety and health outcomes, and present opportunities in Black communities, where decades of underinvestment in everything except police has helped fuel a mass incarceration crisis.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Our Vision for 21st Century policing can be accomplished for a fraction of what we currently spend. Current police budgets are enormous, totaling more than $115 billion per year, collectively. Spending on police and the criminal legal system has dramatically outpaced expenditures in community-based services that help people build stable, safe communities. We have an obligation to change this paradigm and support efforts in Black and Brown communities to develop and build community-controlled institutions and interventions that have been proven to improve public safety and health more effectively than oppressive, terrifying, ineffectual, and deadly modern policing.
Reducing funding to police departments and reinvesting those funds into Black and Brown communities are necessary steps to prevent further harm and to restore the promise of our Constitution for all people.
The ACLU will work across the country to support Black- and Brown-led community organizations to implement a three-part formula to bring an end to our country’s long nightmare with police violence:
- Prohibiting police from enforcing a range of non-serious offenses, including issuing fines and making arrests for non-dangerous behaviors, thus eliminating many of the unnecessary interactions between the police and community members that have led to so much violence and so many deaths;
- Reinvesting savings from the current policing budgets into alternatives to policing that will keep local communities safe and help them thrive;
- Implementing enforceable legal constraints so that there will be only rare instances in which police officers can use force against community members.