Moderate Democrats squirm as ‘defund the police’ returns

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Moderate and swing-district Democrats are squirming with the aggressive return of the Defund the Police rhetoric following the death of Daunte Wright at the hands of a Minnesota cop.

“There is always room for reforms and to do better, but defunding the police makes no sense,” New Jersey Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer told The Post. “I think more investment and training should be put in, things like cameras are something that law enforcement supports. But the idea that we should gut budgets for the sake of it is absurd.”

Gottheimer added that Democrats he knows in Congress support law enforcement and were “grateful” for their service.

Over the last week progressive lawmakers from safe districts have swung for the fences on the issue. “Squad” member Rep. Rashida Tlaib has led the charge. “No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed,” she said in a tweet Monday.

On Wednesday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chimed in: “Cameras, chokehold bans, ​retraining funds, and similar reform measures do not ultimately solve what is a systemic problem.”

Demonstrators march to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights while protesting the shooting death of Daunte Wright.
Demonstrators in Atlanta march to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights while protesting the shooting death of Daunte Wright.
Getty Images

Cori Bush, a newly elected progressive Congresswoman from Missouri, said, “Remove police from traffic enforcement.”

Top Dems, including President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have already moved to distance themselves from the issue. Republicans flipped 15 House seats in the 2020 elections and Democrats are bracing for an uphill battle to keep control of the chamber in 2022. Few have an appetite to play defense on defund, which polling suggests is supported by fewer than 1 in 5 Americans.

“Saying you want to defund just ends the conversation and shuts the door to so many people who could be on our side,” one staffer who worked on a losing 2020 Democratic House campaign told The Post. “We had to spend time, energy and resources refuting and rebutting attacks that were based on the words and actions of others.”

“It was not something that helped us,” the staffer said of the progressive agenda item contributing to the demise of his boss.

President Biden
President Biden has had to distance himself from the “defund the police” slogan at various points.
AFP via Getty Images

Even fellow progressives are nervous about the renewed calls for defunding.

“The police should be focused on genuine police issues, and should be better paid and trained,” MIT professor and liberal icon Noam Chomsky told The Post. “As to whether it’s a good slogan now, probably not. Too much distortion. The important message has been obscured and falsified.”  

“Defund the police” — and its even more radical cousin “abolish the police” — became a rallying cry for the progressive left in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis cops last May.

Amid a summer of race riots and looting, city governments across the country moved to acquiesce to protester demands. In New York, longtime pro-police pols like City Council Speaker Corey Johnson turned on a dime, demanding deep cuts to the NYPD.

Some municipalities went further. Minneapolis lawmakers voted to completely dismantle their police force in favor of a more “holistic” approach.

“We committed to dismantling policing as we know it in the city of Minneapolis and to rebuild with our community a new model of public safety that actually keeps our community safe,” Council President Lisa Bender told CNN in June 2020.

Crime swiftly surged, and the department has since spent $6.4 million to hire new police officers.


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