A new digital platform seeks to shift the conversation around police reform.

Defund to Refund, a story-based digital platform which launched in February, seeks to reframe the debate over funding for police in order to grow support for efforts to shift resources towards other public safety services. The platform was developed by several strategists from the digital marketing firm Huge.

In an exclusive interview with Blavity, marketing expert Asmirh Davis, the lead strategist for the Defund to Refund initiative, says the idea for the project developed after the killing of George Floyd and calls to scale back police presence in communities in order to tackle police brutality.

“'Defund’ has been floating around in the [activist] community for a while,” Davis said. “It got into the mainstream last year.”

But although many Americans support many of the specific policies aimed at shifting resources from police to other social services, the “defund” label has become a political lightning rod. The call to defund continues to motivate many progressives, while conservatives seized on the label and attempted to tie it to anarchy and violence and even some prominent Democrats have rejected the campaign.

Defund to Refund tackles the controversy surrounding defunding head-on by putting it in a context of positive change and not simply scaling back police presence.

“Most people focus only on the taking away,” Davis points out, “when the end goal is to reinvest back into the communities.”

Davis, formerly a Group Director of Planning for the Southeast region of Huge, developed Defund to Refund in collaboration with a group of marketing experts at Huge Southeast, including Analytics Lead Justin Anderson-Weber and Engagement Director Fuming Cao. Huge has committed to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and racial justice. Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategy Darien LaBeach has been working with and facilitating efforts such as Defund to Refund.

Darien LaBeach/Credit:TrafficCart

Defund to Refund partners with BIPOC artists to depict stories of real people and their encounters with police.

"Healthcare: Help Or Harm?"/ Credit: "Healthcare: Help Or Harm"/Credit: Dubbelyoo

Embedded in the artwork and narratives that Davis says portray the “human cost” of over-policing are data and facts that tell the financial cost of these policies. Each story includes a “Refund” section showing how the money associated with these policies could be reallocated to better serve and protect our communities. These narrative and data-driven presentations are designed to help simplify and shift the conversation surround “defund” to solutions-based discussions.

“I want to see more media, more politicians more people comfortable with the idea that this is the right way to go and where we need to be moving as a society,” says Davis of the platform’s long term goals.. And second, I want to see that conversation moving to activism in communities. … seeing more cities really adopt this way of thinking and pushing themselves to divest in areas of policing and incarceration and reinvesting that into mental health resources, social services, housing security, education.”

Currently, Defund to Refund features three artists who are using their visual storytelling skills to illustrate the narratives featured on the site: digital illustrator Jessica Coppet, Atlanta-based illustrator Dwayne “Dubelyoo” Wright, and recent Johns Hopkins School of Medicine graduate Hillary Wilson.

The platform hopes to continue to grow as artists and activists connect via social media and share Defund to Refund’s work with their own networks.

Anyone interested in supporting or collaborating is encouraged to visit the Defund to Refund website and to connect via Twitter or Instagram.