The murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin spawned nationwide protests and ignited the “Defund the Police” movement.
“Defund the Police” meant different things to different people. A few activists wanted to dismantle police departments. Others had a more nuanced approach where policing could be reinvented to include more funding for social services and efforts to deal with the root causes of poverty and crime.
Here are a couple of examples of stories in the New York Times one year ago indicating at the time that the defund movement was catching on.
“Across the country, calls to defund, downsize or abolish police departments are gaining new traction after national unrest following the death of George Floyd,” The Times reported one June 5, 2020.
The Times ran a similar story July 3, 2020, with the headline, “Have Americans warmed to calls to defund the police?” The Times reported, “As people have learned about the term and some city governments have even put it into action, Americans have shown receptiveness to it.”
But the story has changed significantly over the last year.
The Times reported this week, “Facing a surge in shootings and homicides and persistent Republican attacks on liberal criminal-justice policies, Democrats from the White House to Brooklyn Borough Hall are rallying with sudden confidence around a politically potent cause: funding the police.”
The story cites the campaign of Eric Adams, a former New York City police officer who is the first round leader in race for the Democratic nomination for mayor. Adams had a strong anti-crime message and condemned efforts to take away police funding “at a time when Black and brown babies are being shot in our streets.”
On the same day, another Times story chronicled how police departments across the country are losing veteran officers and struggling to fill vacancies. “A survey of 200 police departments (by the Police Executive Research Forum) indicates that retirements were up 45 percent and resignations rose by 18 percent from April 2020 to April 2021 when compared with the previous 12 months.”
It is not surprising that police are turning in their badges in record numbers and young people are reluctant to choose policing since the profession has been subjected to withering criticism and scrutiny over the last year.
Meanwhile, violent crime in major cities, after a long decline, is rising again. “Homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year,” according to the Times.
President Biden is getting the message. This week he freed up Covid-19 relief money to re-fund the police.
“We’re now providing more guidance on how they can use the $350 billion… to help reduce crime and address the root causes,” Biden said. “For example, cities experiencing an increase in gun violence are able to use American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime,” Biden said.
The issue is resonating with voters. A USA Today poll in March found support for the “Defund the Police” movement dwindling. “Only 18 percent of the respondents supported the movement… and 58 percent said they opposed it.” Only one in four Black Americans polled were in favor of defunding.
The country was appalled at George Floyd’s murder, and the protests that followed highlighted legitimate complaints, especially by people of color, about policing. However, Americans are also very worried about crime, and calls to “Defund the Police” are wildly out of sync with those concerns.