Confused About the Movement to 'Defund' Police? John Legend Is Here With an Explainer

John Legend
Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

John Legend performs onstage during MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Aerosmith at West Hall at Los Angeles Convention Center on Jan. 24, 2020 in Los Angeles.

In the wake of the police-involved killing of George Floyd, the movement to defund police departments around the nation has picked up steam, leading to a number of questions about what that actually means. With fears among some that massively cutting back funding for local police enforcement and redirecting that money to marginalized communities, with a focus on social justice and social services, education, mental health, homelessness and domestic violence, among other priorities, could lead to lawlessness in the streets, John Legend stepped up on Sunday (June 7) to offer a primer on what defunding could mean.

"I know this word 'defund' has caused some controversy, even from some who are inclined to agree with a lot of the underlying arguments," wrote Legend. "Some hear that word and envision The Purge, some dystopian descent into anarchy." Legend wrote that some are looking to intentionally cast the argument in the extreme to score political points, so he asked reasonable Americans to indulge him and engage in a thoughtful discussion on the concept.

"Police funding takes up a huge portion of our local budgets. Budgets are moral documents which spell out in black and white what our priorities are," he wrote. "We have finite amounts of money to spend and right now we spend far too much on policing and that choice comes at a cost." As Legend notes, sending those funds to police means that other important social priorities, including housing support, health care, education and child care, the arts, drug treatment, community centers and other services that could reduce some of our most persistent societal problems lack the funding they need to make a difference.

"Whenever there are budget cuts, those 'softer' services are on the chopping block first. And, since we know we're not solving the underlying problems, we figure we better keep a huge police force to contain them," Legend wrote. His solution? Imagine a healthier world and join together to try and change the system.

Most importantly, to answer the concerns of those who fear a Wild West where there are no rules, Legend clarifies that defunding doesn't mean there will be no police. "It means there should be significantly fewer police and more professionals of other types with expertise in their fields, whether it's social work, health care, conflict resolution, drug treatment, etc," he said.

The movement has picked up steam in the wake of the police-involved killings of Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, with activists pushing Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to take such action, though he said once again on Sunday that he does not support the move, even after a veto-proof majority of the city's City Council said they are interested in pursuing it.

Similar attempts are under way in Madison, Wisconsin, and Legend said in a final tweet on the subject that the word "defund" merely means that cities are moving funding from one budget to another to focus on higher priorities. "'reform' or 'retrain' does not at all suggest the same thing. We've been supposedly doing the latter for decades," he said.

See Legend's tweets below.