Recent elections show “Defund the police” to be what I expected all along, a slogan better suited for the streets than the ballot box.
That’s just as well. Giving the boot to “Defund the police” — a motto that, like the even more radical “Abolish the police” slogan, came out of last year’s “summer of reckoning” — should open a path to more thoughtful, workable and desirable ideas that won’t leave communities feeling defenseless.
In Minneapolis, for example, voters rejected a measure that would have replaced the city’s police department with a Department of Public Safety. That initiative would have taken a “comprehensive public health approach” to law enforcement. Licensed peace officers would have been relied on only “if necessary.”
In Seattle, moderate candidates backed by the city’s downtown business community won nonpartisan races for mayor, city attorney and a key council race over liberal candidates who had called to defund the police.
In New York, retired police captain Eric Adams beat farther-left opponents in the liberal city’s mayor’s race despite his refusal to toe the progressive line on a variety of issues.
In Buffalo, incumbent Mayor Byron Brown pulled off an unprecedented write-in campaign victory to keep his seat after losing the Democratic primary to socialist India Walton, who had been backed by such noted Democrats as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Although there is no election in violence-plagued Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot offered timely reassurance to new police graduates and newly promoted officers last month. She will “never yield” to the “defund” voices, she said, because the folks police Superintendent David Brown calls the “silent majority” overwhelmingly want more and better police protection.
Chicago is hardly alone in that sentiment. Nationwide, the share of adults who say spending on policing in their area should be increased grew to 47% last month from 31% in June 2020, according to the Pew Research Center.
Pew noted that includes 21% who say funding for their local police should be increased “a lot,” up from 11% who said so last summer.
By race and ethnicity, white (49%) and Hispanic (46%) adults were more likely than Black (38%) and Asian (37%) adults to say spending should be increased.
In short, American voters still tend to gravitate to the center in general elections, even if they swing to left or right extremes in the primaries. On an issue as complex as policing, slogans like “Law and order” on the right or “Defund the police” on the left are too simplistic to provide the magic pill we all wish we had to solve all of our crime problems. We have to keep looking.
At least, I’m grateful to see how much this issue has brought out voices that have been heard too little in the crime debate. I’m talking about Black and Hispanic voters and leaders from neighborhoods that want more — and better — policing because their neighborhoods are plagued with the highest crime rates.
And we also need to take a closer look at what we ask police to do. Superintendent Brown, who also happens to be African American, has said in the past that, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it.”
He was referring to “every social failure” — from mental health funding to rounding up loose dogs. “Policing was never meant to solve all those problems,” he said. We have seen that with the mishandling of mental health cases and others for which police, no matter how dedicated they may be, are not the best trained or equipped to handle.
He’s right. That’s why an apparently growing number of cities and towns are finding ways to reorganize their services to provide specialized EMTs or social workers where appropriate.
Unfortunately, the furor surrounding the “Defund the police” slogan overwhelmed the positive ways defunding has been applied in cities like Camden, New Jersey, which has spent years bringing its crime rate down after a complete overhaul, not by abolishing police but by turning over many functions to the county.
Complicated remedies like that don’t always make the best politics in political campaigns. But when they work, they’re worth it.
(E-mail Clarence Page at email@example.com.)
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