The rollout on June 3 went according to plan. Social media quickly latched on when Campaign Zero—a police reform organization born out of protests following the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—launched 8 Can’t Wait, an easy to digest campaign aimed at dramatically reducing police violence against Black people with eight actionable items. #8cantwait began trending on social and continued to gain steam. Organizers claimed their “data proves that together these eight policies can decrease police violence by 72 percent.”
Campaign Zero has launched #8cantwait to highlight eight specific reforms local communities can adopt to reduce police violence by up to 72%.— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) June 3, 2020
Visit https://t.co/L2GnHCMYsj to see how your community stacks up, and how you can get involved. pic.twitter.com/uAPCJaJbEB
On June 5, Vox described the initiative as “promising, albeit a bit unproven.” Variety reported celebs like Ariana Grande and Oprah Winfrey enthusiastically endorsed the proposed policies. Campaign Zero co-founder DeRay Mckesson went on a press run touting his group’s neatly packaged plan. “…There hasn’t been data like this before,” Mckesson told GQ in an interview published on June 3.
“And also, there are a lot of supporters of police reform who feel like they’re not smart enough to understand policy—that policy is in this special realm that only people with PhDs can understand. That’s not true, and we want to normalize and demystify these policies. All of these policies are simple and clear enough for anyone to be an expert on,” he explained. “What we’re saying is if the police are going to exist tomorrow, they should have dramatically less power tomorrow,” Mckesson added.
Activists swiftly panned 8 Can’t Wait and accused organizers of promoting lies. Critics went hard against the campaign. “The campaign argues that if eight policy shifts are made at the city level, it can reduce police killings by 72 percent. But the data and study design do not support that staggering statistic put forth in the least bit,” activists Cherrell Brown and Philip V. McHarris said in a statement published on June 5.
“Given the implications of policy surrounding police violence can mean the difference between life and death, the implications of using faulty data science and statistical analysis to make claims as large as these are irresponsible and may serve as an out for leaders and politicians looking for alternatives to more transformative demands.”
“Deray & co is putting forth this ridiculous plan that totally obscures the demands of long-time organizers to strip resources from police. #8cantwait is the easy way out for politicians,” wrote one.
“I have some issues with the campaign as a whole, based on (1) the claims it makes, (2) its focus, and (3) the moral stance it’s asking us to take,” said another.
“We do not need you to amplify black sell-outs pushing toothless reform,” wrote a third.
Deray & co is putting forth this ridiculous plan that totally obscures the demands of long-time organizers to strip resources from police. #8cantwait is the easy way out for politicians. https://t.co/evAt0lqel5— Dwayne David Paul (@DwayneDavidPaul) June 5, 2020
Lastly, I have some issues with the campaign as a whole, based on (1) the claims it makes, (2) its focus, and (3) the moral stance it’s asking us to take. pic.twitter.com/nUaMM9dq3j— Sarah Fathallah (@SFath) June 5, 2020
A post shared by Nicolás (they/them) (@blackpowerbottomtext) on Jun 5, 2020 at 7:56am PDT
Enter 8 to Abolition with a competing campaign graphic that mirrored 8 Can’t Wait’s design. The group slammed 8 Can’t Wait for being “dangerous” and “irresponsible.”
In a statement posted on the 8 to Abolition web site, organizers called out 8 Can’t Wait for offering “a slate of reforms that have already been tried and failed, that mislead a public newly invigorated to the possibilities of police and prison abolition, and that do not reflect the needs of criminalized communities.”
Their goal, instead, is to completely abolish the policing system and to create a more just structure. “We refuse to allow the blatant co-optation of decades of abolitionist organizing toward reformist ends that erases the work of Black feminist theorists,” the statement read.
We honor the work of abolitionists who have come before us, and those who organize now. A better world is possible. The #8CantWait campaign co-opts the abolitionist label toward reformist ends and erases the work and theorizing of Black women. We need #8ToAbolition pic.twitter.com/qs3b9nKXsY— tayoncé ✨ (@tayleighlamb) June 8, 2020
Campaign Zero co-founder Brittany Packnett Cunningham responded to the overwhelming backlash against 8 Can’t Wait by announcing her departure from the organization on June 9.
Fair questions have now been raised about the analysis underlying the #8cantwait initiative. 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.
Campaign Zero data scientist Samuel Sinyangwe then apologized on June 9 for 8 Can’t Wait’s flawed messaging:
My statement. pic.twitter.com/I2Tr5YqWqU— Samuel Sinyangwe (@samswey) June 10, 2020
His statement read in part: “Unfortunately, the roll-out of the [8 Can’t Wait] campaign and the messaging around it were flawed and detracted from the broader, transformative conversation happening in this moment. The initiative was rushed, and despite calls from myself and Brittany Packnett Cunningham to slow things down, it went out anyway.”
Fast Company noted on June 10 that following the pushback and the launch of 8 to Abolition, “8 Can’t Wait has introduced three additional icons that nod to police abolition on its home page: immediate harm reduction, comprehensive community safety, and abolition.”
Campaign Zero, feeling crushed under the weight of so much criticism, apologized on their site for missing the mark:
…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.”
Detractors aside, Fast Company points out that both 8 Can’t Wait and 8 to Abolition have impacted police reform in a tangible way:
The efforts of both sides are working. On June 8, the New York State Legislature passed a legislative package of five police reform bills. Big and small cities alike, including Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, have endorsed 8 Can’t Wait policies. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who has been lambasted for his response to protests in New York City, announced policy reforms to the NYPD that include reallocating part of its budget. Meanwhile, the Minneapolis City Council announced plans to completely disband its police force in line with policies that 8toAbolition advocates for.