The House Judiciary Committee convened Wednesday, a day after the funeral of George Floyd, to hear witnesses from across the political spectrum and to debate how Congress should respond to the national outcry over police brutality. It wasn’t expressly to debate the “Defund the Police” movement, but that hung over the hearing: Republicans brought up the movement repeatedly, while Democrats studiously avoided it. At one point, a GOP congressman even asked the panel of witnesses whether they supported it.
Defund the Police is a movement that has gained steam on the left and among activists during the protests over Floyd’s death. Its supporters think that the police are systemically encouraged to react violently to nonviolent people, and that the resources spent funding those behaviors would be better spent elsewhere.
The political implications of that movement and slogan have been a concern for Democrats, whose 2020 presumptive nominee has the support of the majority of voters, according to recent polls. Many Democrats fear that they could lose the White House if their platform is viewed as too radical. The idea is certainly not being embraced among established Democratic politicians: Former vice president Joe Biden has said he doesn’t support it, and many powerful Democrats in Congress have shown no support.
But President Trump seems to sense it’s a vulnerability for them: He’s tweeted about it several times in recent days. And Republicans in Wednesday’s House Judiciary hearing tried to beat the drum and tie it to Democrats. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Americans understand that it is “pure insanity to defund the police,” and criticized the left for proposing the idea.
“Folks on the left are saying, ‘We should abolish ICE,’ then move to, ‘We should abolish the entire Department of Homeland Security,’ and now they’re talking about abolishing the police,” he said. “This is wrong.”
While at least one liberal lawmaker — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — has called for one police department to be dismantled, no Democrat on the committee came close to supporting completely defunding the police. Instead, they spoke of providing law enforcement with the funds and tools to better protect their communities.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, has repeatedly expressed her disinterest in defunding and certainly abolishing police departments. Given the national conversation, Congress now has a chance to reshape — not end — law enforcement in the United States, she said.
“It is an opportunity to show the nation and the world that we are listening and will act,” she said while discussing the Justice in Policing Act that lawmakers introduced this week. “This bold, transforming legislation would help reimagine the culture of policing while holding accountable those officers who fail to uphold the ethic of serving and protecting their communities.”
Republicans still hammered away.
Several GOP lawmakers on Wednesday, including Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Jordan, spent much of their time defending law enforcement while attacking efforts to defund the police and associating the idea with the Democratic Party.
Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking black member of Congress, told The Post’s Jacqueline Alemany that he supports reallocating funds to other areas that benefit a community, but said the “Defund the Police” slogan is not helpful and, in fact, somewhat harmful.
“I think all of us know that sound bites tend to get interpreted in all kinds of ways, and if you’ve got to explain the sound bite, you’re losing the whole issue,” he said.
“If you’re talking about reallocating resources, say that,” Clyburn added. “If you mean reimagining policing, say that. If you’re going to reform policing, say that. Don’t tell me you’re going to use a term that you know is charged — and tell me that it doesn’t mean what it says.”
Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and other Democratic lawmakers have gone on the record to say that they do not support defunding the police. In fact, Biden’s criminal justice proposal includes giving more than $300 million to law enforcement.
“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden said Monday in an interview with CBS. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness, and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.”
Trump and his campaign have accused Biden and Democrats of wanting to completely defund law enforcement and allow crime to go unaddressed in America’s neighborhoods. While there are some activists who would like to see the complete eradication of law enforcement in some communities, it is not accurate to say that this is top Democrats’ stance.
Most of those calling for defunding police want to reallocate resources from law enforcement to other parts of society — including education, social services, health care and economic development — to decrease reliance on officers to address societal ills. Proponents think there are better ways to keep the public safe — especially those in low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods — without relying on law enforcement.
Many Democrats are trying to figure out ways to decrease police brutality and increase investment in other areas of a community that can promote public safety, while hearing from a portion of their base that increasingly is calling for defunding police. The party doesn’t want to echo that, but it’s clear Republicans will accuse them of doing it regardless.