A nationwide movement of sorts has arisen almost overnight in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. “Defund the police” is its rallying cry, and its purpose is to curtail alleged systemic racism in the nation’s law enforcement agencies. Is this a literal call to disband entire police departments, or a catchy slogan that means something short of that?
Some folks do mean it quite literally.
Nine of the 12 members of the Minneapolis city council are on board with some sort of resolution to disband the police, although nothing is in writing yet. Councilman Steve Fletcher tweeted on June 2 that, “I don’t know yet, though several of us on the council are working on finding out, what it would take to disband the MPD and start fresh with a community-oriented, non-violent public safety and outreach capacity.” Another Councilman, Jeremiah Ellison tweeted similarly on June 4, “We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together. We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response. It’s really past due.”
Is that just heated political rhetoric? Probably.
Others, like the mayors of Los Angeles and New York City, have pledged deep cuts to police budgets in those cities and to re-allocate funds to, in L.A.’s case, “health care, jobs and peace centers,” and toward “youth initiatives and social services” in the Big Apple.
Are threats to slash funding merely punitive in nature, creating political scapegoats and forcing cash-strapped law enforcement agencies to perform the same duties with less money? Or do the budget cuts come with a smaller scope of work? The justifications given typically revolve around the argument that fixing what ails society will reduce the need for cops.
But that’s putting the cart before the horse. Even if money were the answer to America’s crime problem, taking the funds from law enforcement before the societal improvements occur is a recipe for more crime, not less.
The issue has generated a rare agreement of sorts in national politics, with President Donald Trump tweeting “LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!” Meanwhile, former Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden released a statement also opposing defunding: “Vice President Biden does not believe that police should be defunded. He hears and shares the deep grief and frustration of those calling out for change, and is driven to ensure that justice is done and that we put a stop to this terrible pain. Biden supports the urgent need for reform—including funding for public schools, summer programs, and mental health and substance abuse treatment separate from funding for policing—so that officers can focus on the job of policing.”
Congressional Democrats have announced that they will be introducing a new bill this week, called The Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which will, among other things, ban racial profiling, the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants; mandate dashboard and body cameras; create a national “misconduct registry” to prevent cops with bad track records from simply moving to a new jurisdiction; and reform the “qualified immunity” that police officers typically enjoy when sued.
Notably, the bill does not call for the defunding of law enforcement agencies.
Republicans were not consulted in the formulation of the bill, but are open to the idea of police reforms. Both the Senate and House judiciary committees have hearings planned in the next week or so on police violence.
Everyone wants to see racism and police brutality end. Reforms of various kinds are needed. Nobody questions that. But defunding police departments is a bad idea that isn’t going to gain much traction anytime soon.
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