This plan is the latest in a long line of rebukes of the call to “defund the police” by President Biden. He has repeatedly reasserted his commitment to law enforcement and funding law enforcement. These calls haven’t prevented Republicans from lying by saying President Biden supports defunding the police, as Sen. Chuck Grassley shows in a letter he wrote, along with other Republican senators, on Jan. 21 of this year.
I believe President Biden’s statement and intention of funding police to be sincere. Democratic mayors have also rejected defunding the police, and instead increased funding. This is as much a political decision as it is a values-based one. The political calculation is that if they show support for and fund the police, they will avoid soft-on-crime rhetoric and anti-police labels while avoiding being targeted by powerful police unions. Not only will funding police not make us safer, but it won’t protect Democrats from being politically targeted.
No matter where you stand on “defunding the police,” this should worry you. Law enforcement propaganda has done an excellent job in making Americans believe police make us safer, making this investment wasted. Police don’t protect poor neighborhoods from violence, especially Black and brown ones; this isn’t a result of insufficient funding, but of choices. When it comes to sexual violence, police do an especially poor job of solving crimes and supporting victims. According to the Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN), two out of three sexual assaults go unreported, and 97% of perpetrators go free. There are many reasons why sexual violence goes unreported; there is a mountain of evidence on how poorly police treat victims of sexual violence.
“In the case of murders and violent crime, clearance rates have dipped to just 50 percent, a startling decline from the 1980s, when police cleared 70 percent of all homicides.”
People want immediate action on crime and believe defunding the police to invest in tackling root causes instead takes time. I would argue this is a false perception; it is an argument that has been provided with no evidence. Training more officers takes time, too; it is not an immediate solution. I would also argue that root-cause solutions can immediately affect crime reduction. Solutions from housing repairs, housing-first models, mental health, well-paying jobs, community programs, wrap-around services, direct financial assistance, and more don’t take long to implement and have impacts, not 10 years from now but immediately.
Investing more in the police is a policy failure; it is a failure to invest in housing, education, economic security, health care, and communities. It papers over social problems with a gun and concrete jail cells. It is an illusion of safety without making us any safer. But this investment in American law enforcement should genuinely scare you.
Massive investments in police are an investment in an institution thoroughly infiltrated by right-wing extremists and a place of right-wing radicalization itself. Large segments of law enforcement support the ongoing insurrection against the U.S. government, and there are lots of examples. In 2020 the Fraternal Order of Police, America’s largest police union, endorsed President Donald Trump. This was their first presidential election endorsement in its history. And the Chicago Police Union even defended the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Off-duty and former law enforcement officers took part and were charged in the Jan 6. Insurrection. Former D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone—who voted for Trump in 2016—was shunned after Jan. 6 and left law enforcement, saying, “I no longer felt like I could trust my fellow officers.”
There is a mountain of evidence that police in this country are radicalized; the list below is just a little bit more of a taste of how deep the crisis is:
From Reuters on a law enforcement trainer: Richard “Whitehead [who trains police officers] was listed in a database of members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right anti-government group, that was leaked in September by the nonprofit Distributed Denial of Secrets, which says it aims to publish data in the public interest. The members list included some 15 other people who identified themselves as law enforcement trainers.”
From The Brennan Center for Justice: “The FBI’s 2015 counterterrorism policy, which [Michael] McGarrity [the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism] was responsible for implementing, indicates not just that members of law enforcement might hold white supremacist views, but that FBI domestic terrorism investigations have often identified “active links” between the subjects of these investigations and law enforcement officials.”
From NPR: “Investigations by NPR and WNYC/Gothamist show active officers in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago on the Oath Keepers membership roster, with Chicago showing the greatest representation of the three.”
From Vice: “A former Marine accused of being in a neo-Nazi group called “Rapekrieg” planned to attack a synagogue and had a New York police officer purchase an assault rifle for him, federal prosecutors allege.”
Investigative reporting from Reveal News dug deep into the ties: the multi-series report is eye-opening. “In Watkins Glen, New York, Sgt. in Charge Steven Decker refused to talk about the fact that one of his officers, Robert Brill, was a member of two groups connected to the Proud Boys, a violent alt-right gang, and the group “Kekistani Freestate,” named for Kek, a sort of deity employed by the alt-right for memes and other jokes.”
Investing billions in hiring and training more officers into a system that’s already broken will only continue to undermine democracy and expand the reach of fascism. You may not agree with the slogan, but you don’t have to undermine its point. By refusing to engage with the idea of defunding the police earnestly, people have empowered police to pressure politicians they do not support to invest in them. We can litigate the slogan or engage with the fundamental problem of police in this nation who continue to be militarized, strengthening its vice grip on American cities and city budgets.
If you’re worried about how others will respond, engage with them to help them understand what “defund” means and the crisis of our law enforcement institutions. Remember when “Black Lives Matter” was controversial to many non-Black folk? And what happened? Many decided to engage with people on what it meant and why the term wasn’t excluding others. At one point, many well-meaning moderates and white liberals would say, “All Lives Matter.” Now the only people that use the term are aligned with fascism.
Do the same here: Some strategies might first lean into emotions before using facts. You can ask people when they feel safest or what makes them feel safest. Talk about times you feel safe, such as, “I know I feel safest when I have a place to sleep every night, a good job, and knowing my community has resources preventing people from being enticed by desperation.” Help people envision feelings of safety and point out all the feelings that don’t involve police.
You can ask how they would feel if fascists infiltrated law enforcement. Only pull out the evidence of this infiltration after moving through the emotions. Then talk about all the things outside of police that improve public safety, how we can do these things now, and how it will cost less as a taxpayer. After all that, you can dig into how police are ill-equipped to do their jobs.
Pearl-clutching over “defund the police” won’t solve the fundamental problem of funding an institution that is actively undermining democracy while not even doing the job they claim they are doing. As long as the litigating continues, President Biden and other Democrats will kneel to the power of law enforcement, continue to build their ever-robust budgets, and fail to invest in initiatives that build communities, community connections, and actions that truly make us safer.
If you need one last appeal to whose side the police are on, just look at how police responded to peaceful protests for abortion rights. Shouldn’t we be able to peacefully assemble, to protest those in charge without fearing violent retribution? I believe that is written down somewhere … or maybe I am mistaken.
This story was produced through the Daily Kos Emerging Fellows (DKEF) Program. Read more about DKEF (and meet the author, and other Emerging Fellows) here.