Biden has called to redirect police funding, but stopped short of ‘defund’ embrace
President Trump had a heated moment with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace during their interview that aired Sunday, when the president claimed that Joe Biden wanted to defund police — only for Wallace to swiftly interject and say that was not true.
Trump defended his assertions, citing the charter for a partnership between Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., known as the Unity Task Force.
But the task force’s recommendations for the Democratic platform do not mention defunding police, and do not talk about abolishing police as Trump also asserted. Further, Biden’s campaign has said the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee does not support the “defund” movement.
However, Biden has voiced support for shifting some funding away from the police.
When asked during a Now This interview with activist Ady Barkan if he agrees “that we can redirect some of the [police] funding,” Biden responded, “Yes, absolutely.”
Further, the charter in question mentions investing in partnerships with non-police professionals to address certain situations.
“Democrats will reinvigorate community policing approaches, so officers on the beat better serve the neighborhoods they work in, and make smart investments to incentivize departments to build effective partnerships with social workers and mental health and substance use counselors to help respond to frontline public health challenges,” the document says.
While the recommendations say nothing of defunding police, these goals are similar to some of the stated aims of the defunding movement, which include helping communities through assistance aside from police presence. They call for “[f]ederal funding to create a civilian corps of unarmed first responders such as social workers, EMTs, and trained mental health professionals, who can handle nonviolent emergencies[.]”
The idea of taking some police funding – but not all of it – and redistributing it elsewhere is consistent with the concept put forth by Black Lives Matter Managing Director Kailee Scales.
In a video posted to the organization’s website, Scales explained that defunding police could mean taking just a portion of the money currently going to police and reallocating it to other programs.
“What if we used our tax money to put toward other services like education, like health care, like housing, like employment opportunities?” Scales asked in the video, adding, “In some cities, just by defunding the police by 5 percent would double the budget for public health.”
To be sure, the “defund” movement has been complicated by inconsistent messaging. Some advocates argue they’re merely calling for cuts. Others want to literally end police funding and departments.
The confusion was made apparent during a June interview Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., did with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“When we talk about defunding it can show up in multiple ways,” she said. First, she said that the purpose of defunding police is so that other programs have the funding they need, but when asked why that money has to come from police, she said that some police departments should not have the “warlike weaponry” that they have.
Then there are those who go beyond defunding police and call for abolishing police, which Trump also said Biden’s charter supports. This idea too has proven to have different definitions. In Minneapolis, councilmembers have supported abolishing the city’s police department, but at the same time they called for replacing it with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention that could include a Division of Law Enforcement Services, which would be made up of officers who would operate under the supervision of the Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.
Essentially, this would not be an elimination of law enforcement officers, but a restructuring of how law enforcement is handled. The Unity Task Force recommendations, which don’t go that far, do say that Democrats wish to “reimagine policing for the benefit and safety of the American people.”
But Biden certainly has not backed a full-blown defunding or elimination of police departments, as Trump appeared to suggest.
Meanwhile, a June New York Times opinion piece by activist Mariame Kaba went all the way, declaring, “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.” In it, Kaba explains that her desire to redistribute funds does not mean just taking a portion of the police money or still having officers but under a different name.
“We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete,” Kaba wrote. She went on to say: “We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.”