Since George Floyd’s murder and the protests that have followed (here are some ways to financially support protesters on the ground!), calls for police reform, defunding, and abolition have entered mainstream discourse. On Thursday, a group called Campaign Zero founded by DeRay Mckesson, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, and Sam Sinyangwe released a police reform plan called 8 Can’t Wait, which was quickly spread by celebrities and politicians. The plan, as featured above, consists of eight steps that Mckesson, Packnett Cunningham, and Sinyangwe say will reduce police violence by 72%:
- Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
- Require de-escalation
- Require warning before shooting
- Exhaust all alternatives before shooting
- Duty to intervene
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles
- Establish use of force continuum
- Require all force be reported
When Campaign Zero added the 8 Can’t Wait plan to their website, they wrote “Data proves that together these eight policies can decrease police violence by 72%.” However, Mckesson, Packnett Cunningham, and Sinyangwe didn’t emphasize that the “72%” lessening they’re lauding would only be possible if a police department hadn’t enacted any of the policies prior (aka going from 0 to all 8). According to the 8 Can’t Wait website, the city of Minneapolis—where George Floyd was murdered—currently has 4/8 of the policies in place, while places with rampant police brutality like New York City have 4/8, Los Angeles 5/8, and Chicago 8/8. Despite these already existing protocols, cops are still rampantly harming and killing primarily Black people across America. Eric Garner was murdered by NYPD cop Daniel Pantaleo via chokehold in 2014, and the chokehold had been completely banned by the police department since 1993. Although 8 Can’t Wait is now promoted by numerous celebrities and political leaders, ordinary citizens and organizers have called out the campaign for being ineffective, unnecessary, and offensive when we are in a moment where defunding and abolition are becoming instantly popular and accepted. Actor and writer Brittani Nichols wrote a long Twitter thread about the history of Campaign Zero and its connection to an Obama organization. In one of her tweets, Nichols writes “Essentially, all of the money, energy, and resources that HAD BEEN going to these orgs all of a sudden were being pointed to them [Campaign Zero]. It was being touted as an affiliate of BLM while BLM didn’t mention it at all. Their movement to defund the police was being kneecapped.” PhD Candidate Emma Glennon also compiled a thread of tweets focusing strictly on the data behind 8 Can’t Wait. According to Emma’s long calculations based on Campaign Zero’s analysis, she writes “These policies are *far* from a guarantee of any meaningful reduction in police killings. Even places with 7 of the 8 in place see *extremely* high rates of police violence. The estimated effect (72%) is based on only 6.5 months of data and a weak correlation.” At a crucial moment where schools and Universities are starting to end their partnerships with local police departments and the city of Minneapolis is even considering defunding their police force, the creation of a reform-only plan like 8 Can’t Wait is a slap in the face to every organizer and abolitionist doing grassroots work to fully eliminate police violence—not just 72% of it at most.
Many people who have never read about or studied Prison Industrial Complex abolition like to comment on the impossibilities of a world without prisons, police, ICE, or the military. They like to spout reform as the only option in our fight to end violence on a national scale, as if reforming any of these departments would stop the state-sanctioned assault and murder of people in the U.S. and abroad. Every time a Black person is murdered by a cop on video, calls for the arrest, charging, and caging of that officer are widespread. Because the PIC is so ingrained in our minds and lives, most people can’t even fathom a world where justice doesn’t end when a killer cop is thrown in prison forever. From the moment George Floyd was executed until today, most people all across America and the world want his murderer to be locked away forever. They believe that Derek Chauvin in prison is justice, and to George Floyd’s family, that idea is probably accurate. While we watch the protests continue, however, what we are seeing is that the violence George faced was not limited to Derek Chauvin or the many MPD cops who stood by and watched him die. We are all seeing in real time cops shooting people (with metal and rubber bullets), teargassing them, running them over with cop cars, shoving them to the ground despite their age, beating them with batons and fists and other equipment, and pushing them to the ground with knees in their necks just like how George died. Cops in every city are giving defunding and abolition of their departments legitimacy simply because they won’t stop beating and killing people. According to the New York Times (which is a horrifically violent publication, but this article is one of the few representing police violence at demonstrations in several states), “In Atlanta, a half-dozen officers have been criminally charged after bystanders tweeted footage of an abruptattackon two college students sitting in a car during protests. In Austin, a 20-year-old protester shot in the head by police officers aiming at someone else with what’s described as nonlethal beanbag ammunition was left with a fractured skull and brain damage. Video shows volunteers being shot, too, as they carry him off. In California, an officer sitting in a police car in Vallejo shot and killed a 22-year-old man who was on his knees with his hands up.” This Twitter thread (extremely triggering, please view at your own risk) from North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney Greg Doucette shows countless instances of police violence during protests across America. After two Buffalo cops who shoved a white 75-year-old man to the ground and walked around his bleeding, unconscious body were suspended, all 57 members of the Buffalo PD Emergency Response Team resigned in support of said cops.
There is no better evidence that every American police department should be abolished than witnessing massive scales of police violence at every protest. Although cops are dancing and kneeling with protesters for show and good PR, they are ruthlessly murdering dozens and injuring thousands while saying “not all cops are bad.” We are seeing with our own eyes why reforms like 8 Can’t Wait are inherently harmful to our fight for justice. For every officer convicted, sentenced, and sent to prison, there are literally thousands of others who are unhinged and have no allegiance to any politicians or other elected leaders. Even if (and this is a big if) George Floyd’s killers are incarcerated, we still are not dealing with the root cause of his murder, which is policing as a whole. I reacted to the 8 Can’t Wait campaign on my Instagram story the other day by saying “We have to demand more and better. Cops are going to shoot, beat, and kill people whether they are wearing body cams, in the presence of other cops, or in front of masses of people. Why are we resulting to the bare minimum reformist ideas of requiring cops to only shoot after telling the person first or reporting police violence to corrupt police departments? Why do we think prosecuting and locking up killer cops (which rarely happens) is justice when we could be calling for the dismantling of all policing so no one is ever killed by a cop again?” True justice for George Floyd (in my opinion as an abolitionist) isn’t just putting Derek Chauvin in prison. True justice for George Floyd is ensuring that no one is ever murdered by a cop again. In order for the state-sanctioned killings to stop, we have to avoid reformist rhetoric and plans and insist that every city’s police department be defunded and ultimately abolished.