The Color of Climate

Defunding the Police Is an Environmental Justice Issue

Getting rid of the police could remove a key environmental stressor of Black people

Drew Costley
OneZero
Published in
5 min readJun 18, 2020

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Police surround protesters gathering in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to demand the defunding of the police force and to demonstrate against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder on June 1, 2020. Photo illustration. Photo: Erik McGregor/Getty Images

This is The Color of Climate, a weekly column from OneZero exploring how climate change and other environmental issues uniquely impact the future of communities of color.

When Kari Fulton walks outside in West Baltimore, she regularly sees cop cars patrolling the streets, helicopters hovering in the sky, or beat cops walking around the neighborhood.

“They’re there,” Fulton, a policy fellow with the Climate Justice Alliance, tells OneZero. But, she adds, “they don’t give a shit about the community.”

Baltimore is one of several U.S. cities where residents are calling for public officials to defund the police in the wake of the most recent spate of police violence against Black people. Protesters in cities like Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Los Angeles are urging elected officials to abolish law enforcement agencies, or cut their budgets and reallocate funds and personnel toward social services. In 2017, the United States spent $115 billion on policing, according to The Urban Institute. That same year, it spent only $8 billion on the Environmental Protection Agency and $7 billion on the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“There’s a lot of funding that goes into police and then that funding has to come from somewhere,” Fulton says. “And so it takes away from our school systems. It takes away from our environmental protection.”

Activists like Fulton argue that defunding the police is an environmental issue for a variety of reasons. Police create types of pollution that people don’t normally think about. Money that funds police, as she notes, can be used to improve the environment. And the mere presence of police in communities of color can be considered an environmental stressor.

The kinds of pollution that law enforcement agencies bring into communities include noise pollution created by sirens and cars, light pollution from floodlights in high-crime areas, and emissions from police vehicles that are constantly driving around. Because Black communities and communities of color are often…

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Drew Costley
OneZero

Drew Costley is a Staff Writer at FutureHuman covering the environment, health, science and tech. Previously @ SFGate, East Bay Express, USA Today, etc.