Group behind moderate police reform proposal issues apology for distracting from defunding and abolition movements

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

The advocacy group Campaign Zero has been pushing a series of proposals to police departments that it says can be implemented at little or no cost and will drive down police violence by 72 percent. 

But the campaign has been criticized by other activists who say its proposals are not enough and that it’s distracting from more radical reforms. And now Campaign Zero’s founders are apologizing, saying that they acknowledge their “#8cantwait” reform package has “detracted” from the larger conversation about police violence. 

“Unfortunately, the rollout of the campaign and the messaging around it were flawed and detracted from the broader, transformative conversation happening at this moment,” wrote Campaign Zero co-founder Samuel Sinyangwe in a statement posted to Twitter Tuesday evening. 

“The initiative was rushed, and despite calls from myself and [co-founder] Brittany Packnett Cunningham to slow things down, it went out anyway. It was built, framed, released and managed through processes and by people that I have not worked with before and that did not reflect the way I have done this work to date."

And in a statement posted to Medium on Tuesday, Cunningham said that she left the group last week.

“Fair questions have now been raised about the analysis underlying the #8cantwait initiative,” she wrote. 

“I have listened to the frustrations regarding the rollout generally and the questions raised about the data analysis specifically. My experience is not in data science and these concerns were new to me — but given what I have now become aware of, I chose to resign and to focus on other important work, for and with our most marginalized communities.”

A similar statement was posted to the group’s website: “While we are proud of the impact we were able to make, we at Campaign Zero acknowledge that, even with the best of intentions, the #8CANTWAIT campaign unintentionally detracted from efforts of fellow organizers invested in paradigmatic shifts that are newly possible in this moment. For this we apologize wholeheartedly, and without reservation.”

Campaign Zero had said the #8cantwait proposals are based on science, but the data behind them has drawn criticism. 

Jennifer Doleac, an economics professor at Texas A&M University and director of its Justice Tech Lab, wrote, “#8cantwait is not evidence-based. Their recs might be good steps, but please don’t pretend that the ‘data proves’ they work. We do not know if they work yet. Brilliant marketing strategy though, I’ll give them that.”

Fellow Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay Mckesson has been promoting the #8cantwait reforms on a number of platforms and earned endorsements from Oprah Winfrey, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and former President Barack Obama. McKesson spoke to GQ about the project last week.

“The hard part is this analysis and data is new and the first of its kind,” McKesson said. 

“And the police say, ‘If you restrict our ability to use these types of force, you make us less safe.’ That actually isn’t true. In cities where there are more restrictive-force policies, the police are actually safer, and communities are actually safer. The police will also say things about crime being rampant if they can’t use force. That’s not true either.”

Protesters block Tremont Street in Boston in a small standoff with police after a larger protest to call for police department reform. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP)

As of Wednesday morning, Mckesson had not issued a statement in line with Sinyangwe and Cunningham.

The eight suggestions from the campaign include banning chokeholds and strangleholds, requiring deescalation and a warning before shooting, and a ban on shooting at moving vehicles. 

Sinyangwe and Cunningham received praise for their statements from other police reform activists, but many wondered if donations to Campaign Zero would be returned or rerouted to groups calling for more aggressive reforms as part of the acknowledgment.

Activists pushing for the defunding or total abolition of police departments have insisted that #8cantwait would dilute the energy from the nationwide protests that have erupted since the death of George Floyd late last month. Critics have also said that the proposed reforms allow police unions and politicians to sidestep demands to fundamentally rethink law enforcement. 

They point out that many cities have already adopted some or all of the suggestions and still have issues with police violence. And these activists argue that funding must be rerouted from police departments to social workers, drug counselors, mental health experts, and funding for schools and housing. 

For example, officials in Portland, Ore., announced last week they would be canceling a plan to have officers in schools and will reroute the $1 million that was going to pay for it to a “community-driven” program.

It is an attempt to solve the problem, as former Dallas Police Chief Donald Brown said in 2016, of the police being asked to do too much, most of which they are not prepared to handle.

“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown, who is now the Chicago police superintendent, said. 

“We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. … That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

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