By: Mark Glennon*
In little more than one astonishing week, the idea of defunding the police went from loony to mainstream. The Minneapolis City Council voted to do just that on Saturday, and it is a top agenda item for Black Lives Matter, which likewise now seems mainstream.
Apologists for the idea and for BLM wasted no time trying to spin the insanity away, getting right to work on Monday. Eric Zorn, for example, a left-leaning columnist for the Chicago Tribune, wrote on Monday that the “de-“ in defund isn’t what it sounds like. It just means a reduction, like in deregulate, devalue or decentralize, he says.
Instead, he says we should take defunding the police to mean things like not having cops tasked with dealing with mental health and drugs, or a less violent approach to public safety, or breaking the code of silence that protects bad officers and getting rid of generous disciplinary procedures in their contracts.
Also on Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times and many other media ran an Associated Press story to the same effect. It says, “Supporters say it isn’t about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all of their money. They say it is time for the country to address systemic problems in policing in America and spend more on what communities across the U.S. need, like housing and education.”
Governor JB Pritzker brushed off the question of what “defund the police” means, saying it is just ”a poor use of words to describe what many people really want.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot gave a similar though longer reinterpretation of the phrase.
No. Stop making excuses for extremists. They mean what they say. They may want more money for other things, but they expressly want to take it away from policing as we know it.
A few examples:
• The vote by the Minneapolis City Council was to entirely disband and defund the police department – even CNN characterized it that way.
• BLM is leading the call for defunding and their Chicago website says, “We demand immediate disinvestment in CPD and a reallocation of the operating funds currently allocated toward policing, which represent 40% of the City’s operating budget and result in $4 million a day spent on policing.” That means no more police department.
• The national, umbrella BLM website says, “We call for a national defunding of police. We demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive.” Funding cut from police departments is not to be directed to some re-imagined form of policing but to entirely unrelated programs, according to a BLM co-founder. “What we do need is increased funding for housing, we need increased funding for education, we need increased funding for quality of life of communities who are over-policed and over-surveilled,” she says. Those are not police functions.
• Same for the ACLU, which supports defunding. Elizabeth Jordan, a staff attorney at ACLU of Illinois says “There’s billions and billions of dollars that are tied up in policing that could be spent on things like the Chicago public school systems, things like increasing our mental health services, increased general health care services, increasing transportation access,” she said. Those, too, are not law enforcement.
Indeed, as an Axios article says, “There’s a vast swath of well-argued writing on the concept of abolishing the police and the closely related concept of prison abolition, and what those ideas might look like in practice.” Look at them. Most are radical notions about eliminating police, not reasonably debatable ideas about policing.
Why are so many trying to spin a different meaning on “defunding the police”? Because they are kneeling – often literally – before the radical mob they helped create. They fear that mob enough that they dare not contradict it, so they are scrambling to try to redefine its demands to something resembling sanity.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.