The Carbondale Spring is a grassroots project to reduce the budget of the Carbondale Police Department and redistribute those funds to initiatives that build a city that is compassionate, ecologically sustainable, and economically transformative. We are committed to building a city that is confronting the challenges of our time head on, and collectively preparing for an uncertain future.
Carbondale is the perfect place for such a project because our city is in an identity crisis. Long known as a “college party town,” Southern Illinois University’s student population has been cut in half over the last decade, dropping from over 20,000 to around 10,000 students. Carbondale grew alongside SIUC under the leadership of Delyte Morris. This growth was highly unlikely, and attests to the uniqueness and even radicality of Delyte’s vision for a working class university that focused more on practical skills than Great Books.  This vision prefigured future changes in higher education, but was ahead of its time. In order to keep our town relevant in the coming years, we need a similarly bold vision. The Carbondale Spring provides a transformative vision for the future of our town, beginning from the recognition that the City of Carbondale is over-invested in policing, both financially and in terms of its reliance on police to perform tasks for which they are simply the wrong workers.
Our argument is simple: The significant drop in the SIUC student population leads us to estimate that the current population of Carbondale is at or below 20,000 people. This means that Carbondale has a police force that is about double the size of the national average, spending double the amount per capita for police protection. This outrageous size, combined with the rising costs of police pensions, make maintaining current staffing levels economically irresponsible. In the wake of the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it is to be expected that City Officials will look to make cuts in the municipal budget. For too long, there has always been enough money for police, and never enough money for services that directly support our community.
Moreover, the role of the police — in Carbondale and in the United States as a whole — needs to be reckoned with. With roots in slave patrols and the suppression of the working class, the institution of the police in America has served as organized violence to impose a racial caste system in this country down to the present day. In each era of American history, from chattel slavery to the convict-lease system, from Jim Crow to the contemporary era of mass incarceration, the police have dutifully performed the role of imposing laws that have targeted Black, Brown, and poor communities . This is not only about the horrendous murders like those of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and so many others. These murders are only the tip of the iceberg of normal police work, which has steadily built up the largest prison system in the history of the world, disproportionately locking away people of color, and leaving devastation of families and communities in its wake. While Carbondale has thankfully avoided the horror of a police murder for decades, focus on police murders alone obscures the role of the police in creating and maintaining the system of mass incarceration and prison slavery, a moral horror comparable only with the system of chattel slavery from which it descends.
This system has been maintained, one generation after the next, because of clever rebranding and reorganization of its operations. One of the most nefarious and manipulative versions of these tactics is known as “community policing,” which the City of Carbondale uses to justify its extraordinarily large police force. “Community Policing” is designed to sound good to people who are outraged at the abuses of the police. As Philip V. McHarris writes,
“the strategy [of community policing] is flawed and has drawn resources away from communities that need it and instead directed them toward policing. Time has shown that community policing is merely an expensive attempt at public relations, after a long history of racialized police violence and injustice, and does little to reduce crime or police violence.”
Community policing only looks like a solution to people who are trying to avoid a serious understanding of the problem.
Instead of community policing or other police reform strategies, we join Black Lives Matter, the Sunrise Movement, the Sierra Club, and numerous other groups across the country calling for police defunding. The call to “Defund the police” starts from the understanding that many of the problems that the police are currently asked to address are actually not solved by, and even made worse by, the introduction of a badge and a gun. The last 4 decades have seen the steady defunding of social services, mental health services, and a variety of programs that directly supported communities, while police budgets grew and police became unfairly burdened with the role of being “social workers with a gun.” Defunding the police is a strategy to turn the tide on this tendency, investing in unarmed, trained workers and programs to train residents who can mediate, de-escalate, and provide care for people who are suffering from drug addiction, mental illness, and/or the effects of trauma. The Carbondale Spring has developed a unique concept, that of the Care Work, to build these alternatives to much of what the police are currently tasked with.
Defund or Abolish the Police?
“Defunding the Police” is not the same as “abolishing the police.” In fact, since Carbondale has double the size police force of the national average, and since we are advocating reducing the police budget by half, we are actually proposing the ghastly, radical idea that Carbondale have an average sized police department. Not an experiment in reduced policing, not an experiment in abolition. Just a normal sized police department, and a redirection of those funds toward programs that we believe will reduce, though not eliminate, the perceived need for police.
Many participants in the Carbondale Spring are police abolitionists. Many are not. Within our own group, the question of whether to call merely for “defunding” or for “defunding as a path to abolition” is a live debate. And that is a good thing. We are asking ourselves: just what would “abolition of the police” mean?
As many abolitionists point out, much of the violence and anti-social behavior of our society is rooted in endemic poverty created by systems of oppression that the police ultimately maintain, and the police themselves serve as a way of avoiding addressing the root causes of problems we experience. But it would be naive to think that the mere absence of the police would create the presence of a just, livable world, one in which we could breathe together. We think that the process of police abolition will require experiments in working models of transformative justice, and that the need for an armed, organized force is inevitable in a country that regularly experiences random shootings in schools, crowds, and neighborhoods. No one serious about confronting the injustices of this society can afford a rosy-eyed view of the challenges ahead.
But one thing is clear: the current Carbondale Police Department size and budget cannot be maintained, and the Carbondale community, including the Carbondale Spring, have better ideas for where that money can go. Defunding is necessary. Abolition is a question worth investigating. For our part, we’ve decided to pose the question, “Should we only defund, or should we abolish the police?” to ourselves and the wider Carbondale community.
 Harper, Robert A. “The University That Shouldn’t Have Happened… but Did!: Southern Illinois University During the Delyte Morris Years 1948-1970. Devil’s Kitchen Press, 1998.
 Our assumption of 20,000 is likely an over-estimate. We can say this with confidence because during the 2000 Census, there was a miscount in which 5000 students were accidentally counted as residing in Murphysboro. That miscount brought the total Carbondale population to just over 20,000 people for that Census year, until the City of Carbondale sued the Federal Census Bureau to have the numbers corrected. The student population in Carbondale has dropped by over 10,000 since the year 2000. All else being equal, it would be safe to assume that the City of Carbondale population is around 15,000 people. Our estimate of 20,000 is therefore an extremely conservative one. While SIH has grown to employ more people, no one thinks it has brought in 5,000 new residents, let alone the 10,000 it would take to replace the lost student population.
 See, for example: Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press, 2014.
 See, for example: Alex Vitale, “The End of Policing.” New York: Verso, 2017.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a number of questions we have received over and over throughout the last year of organizing for defunding. Here are those questions and our answers. Our answers are specific to our campaign to reduce the Carbondale Police Department budget to an average size. They do not address the question of police abolition, which is, again, not what the Carbondale Spring is proposing:
Police do not prevent gun violence. At best, they respond to it and punish people after the fact. At worst, they perpetuate it and model the behavior that guns are required to solve a whole range of human conflicts for which they are absolutely inappropriate.
Carbondale is a case-study in the difficult truth that more police does not mean less gun violence. Over the last decade, the number of police relative to the civilian population has increased dramatically (since the population dropped, but the number of police remained about the same). The national average is 23 police employees/10,0000 residents. In 2010, with a population of around 26,000, Carbondale had 31.3 police employees/10,000 residents. Today, with a population that is at or below 20,000, the ratio is closer to 41.4 police employees/10,000 residents. Over that same period, the rate of gun violence has gone up. In 2009, there were 120 calls for service responding to “shots fired.” In 2019, there were 148. Higher rates of police in Carbondale have actually correlated with higher rates of gun violence in Carbondale.
Moreover, the police may actually contribute to the problem of gun violence. In our culture, and in our town, police are lauded as the paradigm of how to solve conflicts. They are put forward as role models, which young people should emulate. But as any parent knows, kids often learn more from what you do than what you say you do. And the ability for the police to control a situation cannot be separated from the presence of a gun on their sidebelt. When we call the police into a situation, what we are communicating is that the problem cannot be solved without a gun, and thus that guns are necessary to solve our problems. In a culture that is infatuated with the police, it should be no surprise that people think they need a gun to resolve disputes.
The notion that the response to gun violence should be more cops is a way of avoiding the serious roots of the problem. Luckily, there are researchers and organizations who have pioneered measurably successful approaches to gun violence that either do not involve police at all, or relate to them in a way that decanters their skillset. One such group is Cure Violence Global, which takes a public health, evidence-based approach to violence, viewing it through the lens of a contagious disease. They start from the fact that the people who are most likely to engage in gun violence are those who have already been exposed to it, and identify the mechanism of trauma that leads people to repeat the experiences of harm to which they were exposed. They have seen dramatic reductions in gun violence by encountering victims, their friends, and their neighbors with trauma-informed care in the immediate wake of every shooting. This has been successful in breaking cycles of retaliation, and preventing the tendencies to repeat traumatic experiences.
You would probably call the police. In the Carbondale Spring’s proposal, you could still call the police, just like you would likely do now. Remember, we are advocating for an average-size police department, relieved of the burden of work that can better be performed by care workers, mental health experts, social workers, or neighbors. The Carbondale Police Department would be called only for those situations where the presence of an armed force was actually necessary.
Rape and much domestic abuse is the outgrowth of a culture of toxic masculinity. Unfortunately, the police usually embody this culture, and the rates of rape and domestic abuse by police officers themselves are frighteningly high.
Moreover, the police don’t prevent rape. At most, they administer a rape kit and file paperwork afterward. Too often, the experience of rape and domestic abuse survivors is made even worse by an encounter with the cold bureaucracy of the justice system and the toxic masculinity of individual officers, who often don’t realize the harm they are causing. Many rape survivors do not find the punitive process of the criminal system to be a satisfying experience of “justice.”
We need different approaches to rape, masculinity, and justice, which emerge out of the experience of survivors and the communities that too often permit rape, sexual assault, boundary crossing, and domestic abuse to continue. This is an ongoing experiment in communities across the world.
In short: the presence of a double-size police force does nothing to prevent rape, sexual assault, or domestic abuse. Should a situation require armed force, the average size police department we are advocating could be called. Should a situation require a different set of skills, our plan would allow for options for survivors to call others.
No. Well, maybe: if they wanted to go get a degree in trauma-informed crisis therapy, social work, holistic medicine, or some similarly useful field. And they were willing to not carry a gun and learn a completely different approach to relating with people.
But this is not the kind of job that most police officers signed up to do, and the fact is that there are many, many people who have dedicate their lives to the broad range of skills we call Care Work. Why would we not support these people who felt called to pursue Care Work, and instead focus on retraining people who followed a totally different path?
Moreover, simply retraining the same officers and putting them back out on the street with a different name would undermine the integrity of the project. Many people do not trust the police, and have had bad experiences with them throughout their entire lives. Care Workers will have to work to distinguish themselves from the police among communities that will rightly be skeptical of any city-supported initiative. Having the same people who have policed you now in a new role will set the project up to fail.
In theory, the City Council of Carbondale has the power to reduce the police budget, and the City Council represents the will of the people of Carbondale. Therefore, in theory, if enough people reached out to the City Council and advocated for the Carbondale Spring, and we could sway 4 out of 7 by the City Council members, a majority vote on a clearly worded proposal should be able to accomplish a reduction of the Carbondale Police Department to an average size. In theory.
In practice, the world is very complicated. It turns out, police unions are very powerful political actors. It also turns out that the Carbondale Police Department has been known to harass and intimidate city workers who stood up to them in the past. It also turns out that the City Council has less control over the city than the City Staff, which constructs meeting agendas and has a large degree of sway in determining which proposals are worth considering and which are not. Like so many instances of representative democracy, the real day-to-day power of governing lies with unelected employees of the city.
None of these challenges are insurmountable, however. We list them just to make it clear that we can’t be naive about how social change happens, and that nothing short of a popular movement working on a number of different scales will accomplish the serious challenge we’ve set ourselves.
No, they are just the best first draft of ideas we could come up with. We would also like to discuss visions of creating cooperatively owned housing, community land trusts, as well as support for the Eurma C. Hayes Center. We are also working on projects to heal the soil poisoned by the ecologically disastrous Koppers Railroad Tie plant on the northeast side using mycoremiation techniques (i.e. using mushrooms to consume toxins in the soil). There are vast needs throughout the Carbondale community, and we are always discussing new ideas with people throughout town. But the four initiatives we have outlined are, we think, are necessary, and point toward the holistic vision of reconstruction we advocate.
Carbondale is paying more and more for the roughly the same size police department, directed toward a smaller and smaller population.
From 2002 to 2020, the student population of Carbondale dropped by around 10,000 students — who are generally included in the Census. Over that period, the number of police employees rose slightly from 78.11 to 82.84. The cost of those employees, however, rose significantly, even after making adjustments for inflation.