The United States spends approximately $100 billion on police and $80 billion more on incarceration.
Most of that money comes from local and state government. People love to conflate welfare spending and police spending. “Cut off welfare instead of going after the boys in blue.” There are some creative ways that the federal government directs money to police, but that still makes up a fraction of their overall budgets.
Let’s take a quick look at how the federal government spends its money.
Approximately 1/3 of the budget goes towards Social Security, Unemployment, and Labor. Another 1/4 goes to Medicare.
It is incorrect to state that 60% of our budget goes towards welfare if you mean that to come across in a negative way. When conservatives talk about how too much money goes to welfare, they’re really talking about pension payouts and health insurance. Less than 10% of the federal budget goes towards actual safety net programs. But they mask that by putting a picture in your mind that everyone on a social program in the United States is not working and is just sitting at home doing recreational drugs. Some states implemented a drug test program for welfare recipients and those programs, by and large, lost money. The cost was too high for the low number of people who actually fit that stereotype.
Now, a quick look at military spending.
Military spending hovers around 15% but also accounts for more than half of all discretionary spending.
To put things in perspective, the United States spends more than $900 billion a year in defense spending. This is more than the next seven countries after us combined.
Walk through a quick exercise for me. If you were in charge of budgets, at any level of government, do any of these numbers sound right to you?
Conservatives want you to question spending on programs designed to help people, but you’re not supposed to wonder if the right amount of money goes towards military and police. If you want to question government spending, at least be consistent. There is no reason to spend more than the next six countries combined on Defense. And we wonder why our public schools aren’t great.
This brings us to defunding the police. All this means is reallocating funding away from police departments to other areas of the budget. They simply have more than enough money to do their jobs. More money could be spent on the community, on schools, on job training programs, on health care, on food programs, on housing.
Consider Chicago, a national mouthpiece whenever Republicans want to talk about crime and whenever Democrats want to talk about gun violence. Neither party, however, is talking about one of the main problems standing in the way of any meaningful change. Chicago spends $1.8 billion a year on its police department. Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s self-proclaimed progressive Mayor, has refused to defund police in any way, shape, or form. She’s not entertaining this idea, in part, because she is a cop but also because white folks haven’t grasped what defunding the police actually means. She does not even try to educate white folks because she cares more about reelection than she cares about positively impacting impoverished communities. But something clearly isn’t working in Chicago. Maybe we’re throwing money at police that could be spent in other areas?And maybe we ought to give a new strategy a try instead of clinging onto what we know.
Policing is a band-aid. Redirecting money from police can help create systemic change and break up the school to prison pipeline that exists in under-resourced communities. It’s not as simple as pulling yourself up by your bootstraps when you don’t have high quality resources available to you and police, who were literally founded to uphold white supremacy, greet you at every turn (including schools).
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing people to not align themselves by class or labor. Wealthy folks pull the strings and do everything in their power to maintain their own status and wealth. But conservatives need the votes of poor white people so they make elections about abortion or about race. They get poor white people to buy into the myth of the American Dream even though data tells us that we’re likely to fall into the same income bracket that we’re born into. Just because you know someone who “made it” doesn’t mean that that happens for nearly enough people and should be seen as one of the weakest defenses for unchecked capitalism.
The reality in America is, that unless you are born into the 1%, you’re never going to get there. You’re never even going to come close. And if you are there, you are playing a game with a completely different set rules than everyone else. The average CEO is making 300–1 their lowest employees. How much is enough? Even if we’re divided by race, surely we can all agree that a CEO isn’t working 300 times harder than the average worker? There are also a significant number of “average” workers compared to management-type positions. Minimum wage jobs have become the norm in our economy. Companies thrive off of getting the cheapest labor possible so that profits can remain concentrated at the top. They would like to add to that 300–1 ratio.
White folks don’t want to see race because the majority of them are struggling to get by too. Acknowledging that Black Lives Matters means that we have to admit that we have things a little easier than another group of people. This is hard to do when you’re a victim of capitalism too. It’s so much easier to buy into the conservative argument about how nobody is working hard enough instead of questioning our working conditions together.
Black Lives Matters does not mean that white lives don’t. It’s pretty obvious that all lives matter but non-white communities need some attention right now.
We need to stop being defensive and we need to help others out in the class struggle who have it even worse than we do because, and I can guarantee you, all lives do not matter to the bosses at the top. Their end game is making as much money as possible. They don’t care if they abuse their workforce. They are committed to trying to pay as little in wages as possible. So the choice is ours, we can continue to in-fight, or we can join in Union and demand racial and economic justice together. We can demand that government spends money on our needs, whether that means defunding police, defunding military, or taxing corporations and the 1%. Or we can just all be miserable together and take out our frustrations on each other.