These top Democrats go beyond Biden in diverting police funds

WASHINGTON – A month after the police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis and sparked a wave of protests across the country, Democratic Party officials are expressing broad support for significantly reallocating funds outside of police departments, with positions that go far beyond the presumed party presidency. nominated, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Interviews with 54 members of the Democratic National Committee, convention delegates, and members of a criminal justice task force convened by Mr. Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders found an almost unanimous sentiment that local governments should redirect more money toward social service, education and mental health agencies.

Very few advocate fully disbursing or abolishing the police, as some activists have called for. But they are lining up, as are the municipalities of Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Denver, Portland, Oregon, and other cities, with an increasingly popular movement to dramatically rethink priorities around law enforcement.

His views outweigh those of Mr. Biden, who is opposed to the disbursement but has proposed police changes and said that federal aid to police departments must be conditioned on meeting “basic standards of decency and honesty.” They also go beyond what the Biden-Sanders task force will recommend to the party’s platform committee and Biden’s campaign later this month, according to several group members.

“Governments will have to analyze how they can reallocate money,” said Harry Reid, the former leader of the majority in the Senate. “Of course, it is a good idea if we have more social services instead of the police because the police should be our guardians instead of warriors. There are many things we would prefer a sociologist to work for rather than a guy with a gun and a holster. “

The issue could be tricky for Biden, as he works to unite the party’s disparate factions, including a still skeptical progressive wing, in a coalition that can defeat President Trump in November, while refuting the president’s strategy of attacking Democrats. as weak in “Law and order.” There is a clear tension not just between Biden and the party base, but between the moderate voters Biden needs to win the general election and the more liberal voters who populate the Democratic primaries.

A national poll by the New York Times and Siena College published this week shed light on divergent views. She found that 63 percent of registered voters are opposed to spending less money on the police. But among Mr. Biden’s supporters, 55 percent are in favor of reducing the amount of resources spent on law enforcement.

Stacey Walker, a Cedar Rapids County, Iowa supervisor, whom Mr. Sanders appointed to the criminal justice task force, supports the movement to it dismantles police departments and has been pushing the Biden-Sanders task force toward more radical proposals. He suggested that Biden had not yet captured the energy and sentiment that is currently motivating many at the party.

“At this point it seems to me that the vice president certainly understands the need for police reform, but I think his vision is slightly different from that of some of the progressive activists on the ground,” Walker said.

Activism in the party on law enforcement and racial injustice has already had an impact on Democratic politics. He helped propel Jamaal Bowman to a broad lead over Representative Eliot Engel in a New York primary election on Tuesday, and elevated Charles Booker to the position to score an upset in the Kentucky Senate primaries.

More evidence emerged this week that incremental change is not enough for Democratic lawmakers as Senate Democrats blocked a Republican-led effort to change police practices that they said did not do enough to address racial inequalities .

Of the 54 Democratic officials surveyed, only four said they opposed transferring funds from law enforcement agencies.

“When it comes to the police, it looks like they have to do all the work that is asked of them,” said former Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr. of Providence, Rhode Island, who is a member of the DNC. “I firmly believe that they are here to protect us from crime and that they deserve our support.”

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said that “bringing our nation together to overcome systemic racism is at the heart of Joe Biden’s agenda,” adding that Biden would fight for a range of programs and for “new grants for community policing who has been shown to improve relationships and reduce violence. “

“He believes that police funding must be conditional on local law enforcement reforms to stop these horrible tragedies,” said Bates.

The issue of reallocation of law enforcement funds is so new to the Democratic Party’s general discussion that during the entire 2020 presidential primary, not a single major candidate uttered the phrase “impeach the police.”

Instead, Mr. Sanders promoted his tenure as Mayor of Burlington, Vt., When he gave police officers salary increases. His campaign focused on divisions related to economic injustice, rather than the explicit calls for racial justice that have fueled protests since the Floyd murder.

“Those of us who supported Bernie in 2016 and this year have a lot to learn about racial justice and policing,” said Larry Cohen, president of the group aligned with Sanders Our Revolution. “It is a central issue that needs to be addressed directly and not just as part of broader issues.”

Even Julián Castro, the former housing secretary who offered the most far-reaching criminal justice proposals among the 28 Democrats running for president, did not ask to spend less money on law enforcement. He said that recent events had highlighted the need to adjust the approach to that issue.

“Cities spend a large portion of their local budgets on traditional armed surveillance when situations on the ground do not require traditional armed surveillance,” said Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio. “There is no doubt that what has happened in the past few weeks has channeled, directed and expanded calls for change.”

Demands to reduce police funding range from abolishing departments entirely, and immediately, to eliminating tasks that have long been assigned to law enforcement. Ted Terry, a DNC member and former mayor of Clarkston, Georgia, called for a 50 percent reduction in police budgets for 10 years. “Racial justice is absolutely the most prominent and important issue at the moment,” said Mr. Terry.

However, while his party is pushing to allocate fewer resources to police departments, Biden has proposed directing an additional $ 300 million toward community policing efforts by local police, funds his campaign said would come with restrictions on rules and requirements. of use of force that departments spend more on social programs.

There is some hope among Democrats advocating the change that Biden will eventually adopt policies that reverse his career-long direction of channeling more federal funds to police departments.

“If I stopped here, I would not be satisfied, but I know it is evolving,” said Ron Harris, a member of the Minneapolis National Democratic Committee. “You are listening and I anticipate that the more you listen and the more we advocate for these things, you will respond accordingly.”

The issue has complicated matters in the criminal justice task force that was formed by the Biden and Sanders campaigns after Mr. Sanders dropped out of the race and endorsed Mr. Biden. When it was first convened in mid-May, the group of eight was expected to focus on decriminalizing marijuana and phasing out the private for-profit prison system.

After Mr. Floyd’s murder, the conversation turned to surveillance and the task force considered the proposals as solid as abolishing the police departments entirely. However, in the end, the group’s recommendations to the Biden campaign and the DNC platform committee will not include reducing money for law enforcement, according to people familiar with their plans.

However, even those appointed by Mr. Biden to the task force said that a possible Biden administration should consider what incentives it offers local governments to redirect their law enforcement resources.

“You can’t go downriver and say, ‘Why aren’t there any fish?'” Said Raumesh Akbari, a Tennessee state senator from Memphis who was appointed by the Biden campaign to serve on the task force. “You have to go to the top of the river and find out what the problem is.”

Democrats who urge a reduction in police budgets say it would reverse decades of policies that have shifted funds from social services to police departments.

“I support law enforcement, and that means realigning their mandate and letting them be asked to respond to the social service needs that our elected officials have ignored for too long,” said Alma González, a member of the Democratic National Committee of Tampa, Florida.

As liberal activists and protesters rallied around the slogan of “strip the police,” President Trump and his Republican allies have argued that a Biden presidency would lead to chaotic scenes in American cities. In an effort to stoke those anxieties, the President tweeted the phrase “law and order” 16 times since Mr. Floyd was assassinated.

The vast majority of Democrats interviewed did not seem concerned about Trump’s attacks, and said they saw little risk of Trump portraying them as weak on law and order, as long as they made practical policy proposals to redirect police funds. to other social service agencies. The biggest risk, according to most of them, is that Biden alienates an energized base, exposing a potentially damaging schism in his coalition.

“We as black citizens will no longer accept the minimum of Democrats,” said Ray McKinnon, a member of the Democratic National Committee in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We will not accept Biden or Clintons ‘tough on crime.’ Those days are over and we demand that black and brown people be focused.”