scorecardDemocratic leaders are rejecting the biggest demand of Black Lives Matter protesters as they push their police reform bill
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Democratic leaders are rejecting the biggest demand of Black Lives Matter protesters as they push their police reform bill

John Haltiwanger   

Democratic leaders are rejecting the biggest demand of Black Lives Matter protesters as they push their police reform bill
PoliticsPolitics6 min read
Business Insider
Defund the Police
Protesters march down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol as George Floyd police brutality demonstrations and marches are held around Washington, DC, on Saturday, June 6, 2020.      Bill Clark/Getty Images
  • Democrats unveiled a sweeping policing reform bill this week, but it does not address the central or biggest demand of Black Lives Matter protesters: defunding police.
  • Activists have called for funds to be moved away from police and toward other issues of concern, such as health care and education.
  • Though Democratic leaders have not embraced the "defund the police" movement, President Donald Trump and his allies have falsely portrayed it as the party's default position in an effort to hurt former Vice President Joe Biden's 2020 campaign.

"Defund the police" has become the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement amid nationwide protests spurred by the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. And though President Donald Trump and his allies have sought to link this slogan to former Vice President Joe Biden and Democrats, essentially accusing them of condoning anarchy and being weak on crime, the party's leadership has not embraced the position whatsoever.

Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, has explicitly rejected defunding the police.

"No, I don't support defunding the police," Biden said on Monday. "I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness."

The former vice president has actually called for even more funding to go toward law enforcement to "reinvigorate community policing." He views this as a path toward reform.

"I've long been a firm believer in the power of community policing—getting cops out of their cruisers and building relationships with the people and the communities they are there to serve and protect," Biden wrote in a USA Today op-ed.

"That's why I'm proposing an additional $300 million to reinvigorate community policing in our country," Biden said.

Democrats unveiled a sweeping policing reform bill aimed at addressing racism in law enforcement, but it doesn't defund police

As people across the country fill the streets to demand an end to police brutality and racism in law enforcement, Democratic leaders are pushing the Justice in Policing Act. The bill calls for an array of reforms to law enforcement, but doesn't go as far to support defunding police. It also doesn't condone disbanding police departments, as some localities and activists have pushed for.

The legislation, which has over 200 sponsors, would:

  • Ban the use of choke-holds and no-knock warrants
  • Establish a national database on police misconduct
  • Make lynching a federal hate crime
  • Bar racial, religious and discriminatory profiling
  • Require the use of body cameras
  • Limit the transfer of military-grade weapons to police
  • Condition federal aid on training/policies designed to quell racial profiling and bias

The bill also reforms qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that has made it difficult for people to pursue damages when their constitutional rights were violated by police.

As Democrats seek to build support for the legislation, a number of top congressional lawmakers in the party are gently pushing against calls to defund the police.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview with MSNBC on Monday characterized defunding as a matter for local governments, not Congress. "Funding of police is a local matter," Pelosi said. "From the standpoint of legislation, we're not going to that place. What we're doing is talking about how we change policy to make our policing more just."

With that said, a lot of funding for local police comes from the federal government. Earlier this month, for example, Attorney General William Barr announced the Justice Department was awarding $400 million in grant funding for law enforcement hiring under the Community Oriented Policing Services program, which was established through the 1994 crime bill that Biden helped write.

"I think it can be used as a distraction and that's my concern," Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters on Monday regarding the push for defunding. "I think the intent behind it is something that I support — the idea that communities need investments."

Some Democratic lawmakers have been more direct. "You can't defund the police, that's stupid, it's crazy and anyone who talks about that is nuts," Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said on Monday. "You have to have the police."

"This movement today, some people tried to hijack it," House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina said on a private caucus call on Monday, per what multiple sources told Politico. "Don't let yourselves be drawn into the debate about defunding police forces," Clyburn added.

Meanwhile, critics of the bill contend that it is largely symbolic, given police departments across the US have already enacted similar reforms and problems persist. This explains the push to "defund the police," which has generated controversy and confusion.

"There's a growing chant around defunding the police. And I think there are a lot of people who, if that scares them, they should take that as an incredible vote of lack of confidence in reform, and they should use it as a challenge to show that reform is possible," MSNBC legal analyst and civil rights activist Maya Wiley said during "The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg" podcast with this week.

As Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza explained it on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday: "When we talk about defunding the police, what we're saying is 'invest in the resources that our communities need.'"

"Are we willing to live in fear that our lives will be taken by police officers who are literally using their power in the wrong way?" she asked. "Or are we willing to adopt and absorb the fear of what it might mean to change our practices, which will ultimately lead to a better quality of life for everyone."

In short, it's largely a call to reallocate funds and resources to other areas of concern, such as education and health care.

Progressive Democrats are more sympathetic to calls to defund police

Though the Democratic leadership in Congress has not embraced the movement to defund police, some congressional Democrats are more sympathetic to it.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, among the most progressive members of the House, on Monday's caucus call reportedly said: "It is not crazy for black and brown communities to want what white people have already given themselves and that is funding your schools more than you fund criminalizing your own kids."

Ocasio-Cortez praised the Justice in Policing Act, according to Politico, but urged her colleagues "not to dismiss or mock" the growing calls among activists to defund police.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez reiterated her support for defunding the police. "The New York City Police Department has a $6 billion a year budget that is more than we spend on youth, housing, health care and homelessness combined in New York City. So the problem is not a lack of resources here," she said. "In fact, many folks here in our community say the problem is the opposite."

Other progressive Democrats, such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, have also expressed support for defunding the police.

"When we say #DefundPolice, what we mean is people are dying and we need to invest in people's livelihoods instead," Tlaib said in a tweet earlier this month.

The intraparty disagreements over defunding police once again highlights the evident rift between moderate and progressive Democrats, which has seen relatively new members such as Ocasio-Cortez and veteran politicians like Pelosi clash over various issues in the recent past.

Concurrently, the president and his allies are continuing to push the misleading narrative that all Democrats want to defund the police.

"Not only will Sleepy Joe Biden DEFUND THE POLICE, but he will DEFUND OUR MILITARY! He has no choice, the Dems are controlled by the Radical Left," Trump tweeted on Sunday.

The Trump administration has yet to offer any policy proposals aimed at addressing the demands of the protesters. And while polling shows most Americans support the demonstrations against police brutality and racism, Trump's approval numbers are tanking.