Bubbling up from the hearts of thousands of well-intentioned protesters desperate for fundamental change in the wake of George Floyd’s death has arisen the cry, “Defund the police.”
What does it mean? Who knows?
On the farthest fringes, some seriously want to abolish police departments entirely; most defunders just mean to reduce police budgets significantly. Yet even that is vulnerable to being spun to terrify moderate voters into believing Democrats want to risk a reversal of cities’ historic crime decline. Monday, President Donald Trump was pushing just that line to law enforcement groups visiting the White House.
Fortunately, responsible adults in the Democratic Party — those routinely dismissed as part of the hated establishment — have shut the talk down quickly.
“Joe Biden does not believe that police should be defunded,” his campaign announced, “(He) supports the urgent need for reform ... funding community policy programs that improve relationships between officers and resident, and provides the training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths.”
Of course some police departments should see their budgets trimmed; of course the NYPD shouldn’t, alone among departments, be immune to cuts at a time of budgetary stress. But aggressive defunding of police in service of abolishing policing altogether is another matter entirely.
Also Monday, congressional Democrats unveiled the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. It bans chokeholds, establishes a national database to track police misconduct, expands the Justice Department’s ability to examine misconduct at the local level and adds major legal reforms to hold cops accountable in civil and criminal court.
That’s smart policy and smart politics.