Defund the police toolkit

Updated July 2020

In the midst of the Black-led mass uprisings across the globe calling for and end to police murders, SURJ created this toolkit for white communities to learn and take action around calls to invest money in communities and divest from Police.

Living in a world without police is possible and is on its way.

Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led movements and organizations have been dreaming of, planning for, and working towards a world without police for generations. Minneapolis is showing us that defunding the police is possible. As the Movement for Black Lives explains, this is about investing in “Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.” Re-investing police budgets in education, healthcare, and community safety is possible and necessary.

Nine Minneapolis City Council members have publicly committed to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and begin a community led process to re-imagine and reinvest in a transformative model of community safety. The people are speaking and Minneapolis is showing the world that transformation and abolition of the policing and prison system is possible in our lifetimes.

As this toolkit is being released the Movement for Black Lives is planning a weekend of action over for the Juneteenth holiday. This weekend of action will primarily center the demand of defunding the police and investing in Black communities.  As well as the demand that Trump must resign.  

We know that for decades the greedy few and the Right have used racist fear-mongering to divest from public health infrastructure, good housing and healthcare and instead pump money into police departments implementing social control and retributive — not restorative or transformative justice. At Showing Up for Racial Justice, we refuse to accept the lie that our communities are safer with more police. 

SURJ has attempted to compile some of the best of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) work on abolition which has been generations in the making.  SURJ is offering this for white folks who are newly politicized around abolition and defunding, those who are trying to understand or deepen their understanding of what it means, those who want to take action for Juneteenth, and those who want to join the ongoing organizing to defund the police.

Join us and deepen your commitment to fighting for a transformed world.  (view full SURJ Statement here). 


We recognize that there are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to call for defunding or abolishing the police. In this section, you will find some definitions. Those who actively oppose abolition, media and the Right will purposely obscure the calls for abolition and insight fear among people that abolition will lead to more violence and no mechanism for accountability for harm. 

What is policing?

Critical Resistance defines policing as: 

A social relationship made up of a set of practices that are empowered by the state to enforce law and social control through the use of force.  Reinforcing the oppressive social and economic relationships that have been central to the US throughout its history, the roots of policing in the United States are closely linked the capture of people escaping slavery, and the enforcement of Black Codes.  Similarly, police forces have been used to keep new immigrants “in line” and to prevent the poor and working classes from making demands. As social conditions change, how policing is used to target poor people, people of color, immigrants, and others who do not conform on the street or in their homes also shifts.  The choices policing requires about which people to target, what to target them for, and when to arrest and book them play a major role in who ultimately gets imprisoned.

What do we mean by ‘defund the police’? 

Across the country, $100 billion is spent on law enforcement. What is meant by defunding the police is reducing the size of police budgets and re-allocating the funds toward social services. If more funding was allocated to social programs and the social safety net was strengthened, this would have a positive effect on public health and safety without the harmful consequences that police have in communities. 

The Movement for Black Lives has made a direct call nationally to defund the police which we are fully aligned with. Read more here about what they mean by this. This video by BLM co-founder and Yes on R campaign strategist Patrisse Cullors gives a good overview of what we mean by Defunding the PoliceHere is an article by SURJ Leadership Team member Hilary Moore calling for white folks to with draw support for policing and call for defunding the police. 

What do we mean by the ‘prison industrial complex’? 

Policing is one component of the prison industrial complex (PIC). Critical Resistance defines the PIC as: 

the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems. Through its reach and impact, the PIC helps and maintains the authority of people who get their power through racial, economic and other privileges. There are many ways this power is collected and maintained through the PIC, including creating mass media images that keep alive stereotypes of people of color, poor people, queer people, immigrants, youth, and other oppressed communities as criminal, delinquent, or deviant. This power is also maintained by earning huge profits for private companies that deal with prisons and police forces; helping earn political gains for “tough on crime” politicians; increasing the influence of prison guard and police unions; and eliminating social and political dissent by oppressed communities that make demands for self-determination and reorganization of power in the US.

What do we mean by divest and invest?

The Movement for Black Lives policy platform demands include divest/invest: “investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.” 

What do we mean by abolition?

Critical Resistance defines abolition as 

a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment. From where we are now, sometimes we can’t really imagine what abolition is going to look like. Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of buildings full of cages. It’s also about undoing the society we live in because the PIC both feeds on and maintains oppression and inequalities through punishment, violence, and controls millions of people. Because the PIC is not an isolated system, abolition is a broad strategy. An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future. It means developing practical strategies for taking small steps that move us toward making our dreams real and that lead us all to believe that things really could be different. It means living this vision in our daily lives. 

For more information on abolition, check out this toolkit and this workshop by Critical Resistance and this interview with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Marc Lamont Hill. Additionally, just recently Critical Resistance and others hosted an excellent webinar, “On the Road With Abolition: Assessing Our Steps Along the Way.”


Check out a current campaign to demand an abolition of policing, visit SURJ National is in line with the 8toAbolition demands.  We are in support of the Movement for Black Lives main demands of Defunding the police, Investing in Black Communities, and Trump Must Resign.  8toAbolition demands are in line with these demands from the Movement for Black Lives which you can learn more about here

#8toAbolition was released shortly after Campaign Zero’s #8CantWait platform. Campaign Zero has since apologized and changed course after being challenged on their platform. You can read more about that pushback here

Resources and Examples of Local Defund Police Campaigns

Now is a critical time to use the momentum of the uprising happening around the country in urban and rural areas to defund the police and create alternatives.  This can happen through ongoing campaigns, or by using the energy of protests to push those in power to make the demands that we have a reality.

Resources and Examples of Alternatives to the Police

The notion of policing has become equated with public safety. Furthermore, an initial reaction to the idea of defunding police usually is, “who do we call?” Limiting public safety to be carried out by law enforcement also limits our imagination from developing possibilities that can exist and be scaled up across the country to replace current policing with alternative community-based responses. Examples of alternatives do exist and they benefit communities without leading to violence and killing perpetrated by law enforcement. From intervening on violence, mental health crisis, or drug overdose, communities have been practicing alternatives to calling the police for many years. Here are some examples: 

Creating Alternatives Ways of Dealing with Conflict and Harm

Part of our work is to share the wisdom from organizations and movements that have been building alternatives to the police and systems of community safety and accountability without the police. It’s important to learn about and begin to build strong infrastructures and networks for alternatives, while creating a culture shift to normalize not calling police.

Interested in Continuing to Learn More about Policing, Imprisonment & Abolition?

Articles and other resources on defunding the police and abolition: 

A few good books:

A few good books about prisoner-led organizing behind bars, currently & historically:


Defunding the police and investing in health care, housing, education, a living wage,  transformed economy, and healthy environment–all the things communities need for actual safety and wellbeing–is long-term work. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color led organizing to divest from systems of harm and invest in systems of care have given the vision and path forward. Global uprisings are bringing about transformations faster than we could have previously imagined, and M4BL reminds us to stay involved beyond when this is an uprising moment. Let’s continue organizing, learning, building relationships, taking action, and bringing more white people into the movement for racial justice. Join SURJ by signing up here. Find and join a local SURJ chapter or affiliate, and if there isn’t one in your area, start one!

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