Progressive politics and “defunding the police”

2022-04-12

in Law, Politics, Psychology, Rants, The environment

While outside the area of climate change policy, the concept and slogan of “defunding the police” is revealing about important dynamics between progressive activist politics and policy-making by those who actually win power.

As The Economist reported in 2021:

The critical division is over whether or not the plan is a pretext to “defund the police”. Opponents insist it is sloganeering masquerading as policy. Shortly after Floyd’s murder, a majority of the city council appeared at a rally at Powderhorn Park on a stage in front of which “DEFUND POLICE” appeared in gigantic block letters. “The narrative all along until maybe five months ago, six months ago, was that they would be defunding the police and allocating the money elsewhere. The only thing that’s changed is the political winds,” says Mr Frey. He insists that alternatives to policing can still be funded without modifying the city charter, and that, if anything, more funding for the police is needed: “Right now, in Minneapolis, we have fewer officers per capita than just about every major city in the entire country.”

Advocates for reform have adjusted their language. As with the civil-rights movement, “those farthest on the left are what pushed the movement…we shifted the narrative from reform to defund,” says Sheila Nezhad, a community organiser running for mayor who is posing a stiff challenge to Mr Frey. Having contributed to a report on policing that argued that “abolition is the only way forward”, Ms Nezhad now avoids such rhetoric on the campaign trail, preferring words like “reinvest”. Kate Knuth, another candidate for mayor who supports the reform, says: “My vision of a department of public safety absolutely includes police,” funded at the same levels as today.

Public opinion in favour of “defunding” police departments was never high. The increase in violent crime has made it even less so.

In June 2020, 41% of Democrats told survey-takers for the Pew Research Centre that they wished to reduce local police budgets. By September 2021 that had shrunk to 25%. Among the general public, support declined from 25% to 15%.

I would say the dynamics of this movement mirror many of those in the progressive, intersectional, anti-capitalist climate justice movement. People who are sympathetic to the kind of analysis and solutions within the movement embrace them enthusiastically and selectively surround themselves to people who agree, losing touch with public opinion and losing the ability to influence people who don’t mostly agree with them already. This leads to policy proposals that over-reach what is politically plausible (abolish global capitalism!) but, because they feel swollen with moral superiority about their analysis and policy preferences, activists reject the public rather than revise their proposals. They end up powerless and isolated, but feeling like the moral lords of the universe. Because they see their opponents as so contemptible, the idea of developing an approach with broader electoral support is rejected both pragmatically and emotionally, in the first case because they can’t see how cooperating with such awful people will lead to an outcome they want, and in the second case because their revulsion and contempt makes them reject cooperation before even considering what it would involve.

The biggest thing we need to achieve to have a chance against climate change is to split the conservative side of the population between those with respect for empirical truth who won’t dismantle climate change protections to try to win popularity and the fantasists who either deny the reality of climate change altogether or dismiss the need to act on it. The latter would then hopefully be a small enough rump to be politically marginal. Something comparable on the left may be a helpful parallel development, characterized by the rejection of the idea that everyone who disagrees with progressivism can be ignored or converted. Recognizing that multiple political perspectives can be simultaneously valid is the basis of pluralism and the foundation of the central democratic concept that the defeated must acknowledge the legitimacy of the victors. Without that, politics becomes an anarchic ideological contest in which any tactic can be justified and where a coherent and effective agenda serving the public interest cannot arise.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

. April 12, 2022 at 1:08 am

Many people in high-crime neighbourhoods reject defunding, and call for more but better-trained police who spend more time solving serious crimes. The slogan “defund the police” is also politically toxic. Joe Biden opposed it. Lots of Democrats blame it for nearly costing them their narrow congressional majorities in 2020.

In a Vox/Data for Progress poll taken last April, 63% of voters, including 43% of Republicans, supported redirecting some police funding to create a new agency of first-responders “to deal with issues related to addiction or mental illness”. Banning chokeholds, requiring body-worn cameras, ending qualified immunity (a judicial doctrine that impedes holding police accountable for misconduct) and banning no-knock warrants also received majority support. In the same poll, 63% of respondents also said they trusted the police. “The problem with the defund-the-police movement is that it felt punitive,” notes Aaron Chalfin, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

https://www.economist.com/united-states/2022/01/15/as-violent-crime-leaps-liberal-cities-rethink-cutting-police-budgets

. April 16, 2022 at 5:53 pm

Karen Bass Is Clashing With Allies on the Left Over Policing

https://newrepublic.com/article/166095/karen-bass-police-homeless-mayor

Bass’s mayoral run may be the best example in the country of the Democratic Party’s ambivalent relationship to the Black Lives Matter movement that captured the hearts of many Democrats in 2020. Not two years ago, as protesters clashed with police officers in the streets of Los Angeles, Bass authored the Democratic response to the George Floyd murder. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would have banned chokeholds, ended qualified immunity law protecting cops from lawsuits, and banned no-knock warrants in drug cases—while also funding police departments—but it never passed the Senate. Even in the midst of the uprisings, Bass said that “Defund the Police” was “probably one of the worst slogans ever.”

. April 20, 2022 at 3:56 pm

CULPEPER, Va. — Abigail Spanberger railed against members of her own party for playing into the GOP’s hands on “defund the police” after the 2020 election. This year, she’s not waiting for permission to do it her way.

The days of Democrats’ own base pushing to strip law enforcement resources are mostly behind them, with even President Joe Biden talking up his plans to do the opposite. And while Republicans aren’t yet citing law enforcement funding in the same manner they did in the last election, swing-district Democrats hear echoes of those attacks in the GOP’s focus on rising crime rates and the border crisis.

https://www.politico.com/news/2022/04/20/abigail-spanberger-virginia-policing-message-00026211

. April 21, 2022 at 1:54 am

Evergreen reminder that “just transition” is the “defund the police” of climate slogans. It appeals to the most vocally supportive while alienating or failing to convince the people that actually need convincing.

https://twitter.com/maxfawcett/status/1516585264885362689

. June 16, 2022 at 10:25 pm

What now? ‘Defund,’ say some after Toronto police admit using more force against Black people

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-police-defund-chief-data-1.6491278

. June 30, 2022 at 9:59 pm

Numerous protesters also demanded that municipal governments “defund the police”. The slogan is now defunct. Many police departments that lost funding saw their budgets as a share of overall spending rise slightly in 2021.

However, if the silly slogan has gone, the push for reforms has not. Many reformers were hoping for a reallocation of funds and responsibilities. Quietly, some local governments have been doing this.

A few have created a unit that is separate from the police and fire departments. In New Mexico, Albuquerque’s government set up acs as a third branch of public safety, devoted to behavioural troubles. Its teams vary: some have a police officer and others not. They respond to emergency calls involving issues ranging from mental health to substance use and homelessness.

An hour’s drive away, Santa Fe launched an alternative response unit (aru) within its fire department last May. Rather than being completely separate from the police, a group of responders (a case manager, a paramedic and sometimes a police officer) answer calls related to mental health together. Sometimes they take people to the safety of shelters or crisis-intervention centres. The case manager will follow up to help some people with the services they need. This can involve anything from getting government identification to placement in a rehabilitation facility.

https://www.economist.com/united-states/2022/05/29/since-george-floyds-murder-new-ways-of-policing-have-been-spreading

. June 30, 2022 at 10:06 pm

The recall election has wider lessons. First, it highlights the conflict within the Democratic Party that hampers functional government. In San Francisco Democrats have unilateral control, but progressives are butting heads with moderates, trying to cast them as closet Republicans. Recent redistricting conversations became “borderline violent”, says one observer. Sheriffs had to be called in. This reflects a degradation of discourse that is occurring not just between parties but within them.

Second, it shows that voters are cooling on progressive policies, after seeing real-world consequences. There is pushback in other cities with progressive district attorneys, including Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Calls to “defund the police” have shifted to “refunding”. “The problem is, many progressive policies don’t appear to be very effective,” says Jonathan Weber, editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Standard, a news site. “I don’t think this is a blip,” Mr Weber predicts. San Franciscans, known for their embrace of progressivism, may be turning towards moderation.

https://www.economist.com/united-states/2022/06/05/why-san-franciscos-clash-with-its-district-attorney-matters

. July 17, 2022 at 12:06 pm

Fringe and sometimes dotty ideas have crept into Democratic rhetoric, peaking in the feverish summer of 2020 with a movement to “defund the police”, abolish immigration enforcement, shun capitalism, relabel women as birthing people and inject “anti-racism” into the classroom. If the Democrats are defined by their most extreme and least popular ideas, they will be handing a winning agenda of culture-war grievance to an opposition party that has yet to purge itself of the poison that makes Mr Trump unfit for office.

The Democrats have begun to put this right, but they lack urgency. That may be because some of them blame their problems on others—as when the White House points to “Putin’s price hike” or the negativity of Republican politicians and the conservative media. Although there is something to this, the party also needs to ditch cherished myths that empower its idealists.

One is that a rainbow coalition of disaffected, progressive voters is just waiting to be organised to bring about a social revolution. The truth is that those who do not vote are politically disengaged and not very liberal. Some black, Hispanic and working-class voters may well see each other as rivals or have conservative views on race, immigration and crime.

Another myth is that winning over centrist voters is unnecessary, because Democrats’ fortunes will be rescued by grand structural reforms to American democracy that are tantalisingly within reach. The constitution biases the Senate and electoral college towards rural America, and thus away from Democrats. Some in the party dream of using a congressional supermajority to shift representation in Washington towards the popular vote by adding states to the union, amending the constitution or packing the Supreme Court. Yet even in better times, there is a slim chance of that actually happening.

The greatest myth is that the party’s progressive stances invigorate the base and are off-putting only to the other side. Consider the governor’s election in Virginia in 2021. After favouring Mr Biden by ten percentage points in 2020, voters elected a Republican whose signature campaign pledge was ridding schools of critical race theory (crt). That concept has become a catch-all term for conservative gripes, some real and some fantastical. Republican attacks on Democrats as out-of-touch socialists ring true to many voters in the centre.

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/07/14/the-democrats-need-to-wake-up-and-stop-pandering-to-their-extremes?itm_source=parsely-api

. August 20, 2022 at 6:37 pm

Fringe and sometimes dotty ideas have crept into Democratic rhetoric, peaking in the feverish summer of 2020 with a movement to “defund the police”, abolish immigration enforcement, shun capitalism, relabel women as birthing people and inject “anti-racism” into the classroom. If the Democrats are defined by their most extreme and least popular ideas, they will be handing a winning agenda of culture-war grievance to an opposition party that has yet to purge itself of the poison that makes Mr Trump unfit for office.

The Democrats have begun to put this right, but they lack urgency. That may be because some of them blame their problems on others—as when the White House points to “Putin’s price hike” or the negativity of Republican politicians and the conservative media. Although there is something to this, the party also needs to ditch cherished myths that empower its idealists.

One is that a rainbow coalition of disaffected, progressive voters is just waiting to be organised to bring about a social revolution. The truth is that those who do not vote are politically disengaged and not very liberal. Some black, Hispanic and working-class voters may well see each other as rivals or have conservative views on race, immigration and crime.

Another myth is that winning over centrist voters is unnecessary, because Democrats’ fortunes will be rescued by grand structural reforms to American democracy that are tantalisingly within reach. The constitution biases the Senate and electoral college towards rural America, and thus away from Democrats. Some in the party dream of using a congressional supermajority to shift representation in Washington towards the popular vote by adding states to the union, amending the constitution or packing the Supreme Court. Yet even in better times, there is a slim chance of that actually happening.

The greatest myth is that the party’s progressive stances invigorate the base and are off-putting only to the other side. Consider the governor’s election in Virginia in 2021. After favouring Mr Biden by ten percentage points in 2020, voters elected a Republican whose signature campaign pledge was ridding schools of critical race theory (crt). That concept has become a catch-all term for conservative gripes, some real and some fantastical. Republican attacks on Democrats as out-of-touch socialists ring true to many voters in the centre.

The good news is that Democrats are showing signs of turning back from peak progressive. In San Francisco irate voters have recalled their district attorney as well as three school-board members whose zeal for ideological coups de théâtre neglected bread-and-butter problems with crime and schooling. Last year Minneapolis defeated a referendum to defund the police and New York chose a former police captain as mayor. All these causes were backed by non-white voters, including Asian-Americans in San Francisco and African-Americans in Minneapolis. Prominent Democrats running in battleground states are steering clear of the rhetoric that enthralled the party in 2020.

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2022/07/14/the-democrats-need-to-wake-up-and-stop-pandering-to-their-extremes

. August 20, 2022 at 6:41 pm

But on August 9th it was a local fight that came close to undoing her: one over policing and crime, hot issues in the primary race for nominee of the Democratic Farmer-Labour Party (dfl), Minnesota’s Democratic-Party affiliate. When protests erupted in Minneapolis in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, by a local police officer, Ms Omar backed nine of the city’s 13 council members in calling for the police department to be abolished. She argued that “you can’t really reform a department that is rotten to the root”.

Ms Omar has maintained that stance—even after a referendum in Minneapolis roundly rejected a proposal last November to replace the police with a new department of public safety. Her primary rival for the dfl‘s nomination, Don Samuels, is a 72-year-old former council member who, unlike Ms Omar, has almost no digital presence. Mr Samuels ran on a tough-on-crime message and, to the surprise of many, came within two percentage points of unseating her.

The tight race was just one indication of how crime and policing continue to unsettle Minnesotan politics more than two years after Mr Floyd’s murder. Minneapolis has long been one of America’s most left-leaning cities. But since the spring of 2020, violent crime has soared. In 2021 it recorded 93 murders in a population of just 425,000, double the number in 2019. Other rates of violent crime, including carjackings, have risen even faster.

Meanwhile the police, having lost many officers to early retirement, is now 100 shy of the legal minimum required by the city’s charter (Mr Samuels had led an effort to sue Minneapolis over this). Taken together, this helps explain the result of the referendum pushed by the council. Unusually among American cities, the council then held more sway than the mayor; it was subsequently stripped of many of its powers.

https://www.economist.com/united-states/2022/08/11/crime-and-policing-continue-to-split-democrats-in-minnesota

. September 7, 2022 at 3:08 am

Minnesota Democrats got a wake-up call on this last month, when Rep. Ilhan Omar nearly lost her Minneapolis-based House primary. Representing Ellison’s former House district, Omar, like Ellison, had backed a measure rejected by Minneapolis voters last year to replace the city’s police department with a “Department of Public Safety” and to eliminate minimum staffing requirements. Its proponents insisted it was not “defund the police,” but more moderate Democrats, including the state’s governor, Tim Walz, opposed the measure. And it was a Democratic candidate running on a pro-police platform who nearly beat Omar.

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/09/05/george-floyd-reckoning-democrat-crime-00054711

. September 26, 2022 at 9:22 pm

Once nicknamed ‘Murderapolis,’ the city that became the center of the ‘Defund the Police’ movement is grappling with heightened violent crime

https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/25/us/minneapolis-crime-defund-invs/index.html

. October 19, 2022 at 1:02 pm

In my many years in politics, I have never seen a more destructive slogan than “defund the police.” In fairness to my beloved Democrats, only a tiny slice of the activist left supports defunding. This election season, I can’t find any Democrats – actual Democratic candidates – running on that nonsense. The overwhelming majority of Americans – including most Black Americans and most Democrats – oppose defunding police. Still, the political damage from that slogan has been real.

https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/19/opinions/democrats-crime-midterm-election-begala/index.html

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