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Defund the police? Here’s what Mitt Romney, The Wall Street Journal and others think

Protesters rally on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Phoenix, demanding that the Phoenix City Council defund the Phoenix Police Department. Many protesters have adopted the phrase “defund the police” as a slogan.
Matt York, Associated Press

As protests sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of police violence continue across America and the world, a new narrative has emerged: calls to defund police departments altogether. Here’s what the nation’s media pundits, elected leaders and others have to say.

Washington Post columnist Max Boot says “mend it, don’t end it,” calling for reform instead of defunding:

“When former president George W. Bush denounces ‘systemic racism’ and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) marches for Black Lives Matter, you know something fundamental has changed,” Boot wrote. “ … The task (reform) can seem hopeless given all the misconduct we’ve seen in recent days, but there are a few rays of light.”

Annie Lowrey from The Atlantic proposes that defunding the police means much more than simply a budget cut:

“America badly needs to rethink its priorities for the whole criminal-justice system, with Floyd’s death drawing urgent, national attention to the necessity for police reform,” she explains. “ … What might that mean in practice? Not just smaller budgets and fewer officers, though many activists advocate for that. It would mean ending mass incarceration, cash bail, fines-and-fees policing, the war on drugs, and police militarization, as well as getting cops out of schools. It would also mean funding housing-first programs, creating subsidized jobs for the formerly incarcerated, and expanding initiatives to have mental-health professionals and social workers respond to emergency calls.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is hesitant to join the “defund the police” movement, but recognizes the need for policy changes:

“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden said on CBS Evening News. “I support conditioning federal aid to police, based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness. And, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who marched with protesters on Sunday in Washington, calls defunding police “out of the range of reality”:

“We need our police. We’re not going to get rid of the police,” he told reporters Monday. “That’s a silly idea. We’d be nuts to think that we’re going to reduce our commitment to the police.”

The Washington Post editorial board argues that defunding the police “is not just about the cash,” but about creating constructive alternatives to law enforcement:

“Ultimately, the call to defund the police should be understood as a call to reinvest in communities and explore new solutions,” they write. “It asks us to draw on our resources and creativity and to be clear-eyed about the most problematic and painful parts of our policing history. At its core, it is an expression of relentless optimism — in response to the suggestion that things could be a little less bad, it says: We can do so much better.”

On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal editorial board warns that decreasing police presence would lead to sharp upticks in crime:

“Even before the recent riots, crime had been surging this year in many of America’s big cities,” they argue. “ … Law enforcement is mainly a state and local obligation, and in many cities now the defunders have power. Poor communities will be the victims if they succeed.”

Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus claims “defund the police” may be “the worst political slogan ever coined”:

“For one thing, its proponents say it doesn’t mean what it sounds like — the abolition of police departments, a proposal that would be an election year gift to President Trump,” he opines. “The defunders say they want to trim police budgets and redirect the money to social services, and let cops go back to solving crimes and other core functions. Even then, the idea is massively unpopular.”

Our own Jay Evensen suggests budget cuts might be on their way for police departments — but because of the economic recession, not because of protests:

“Maybe in the coming weeks someone will articulate how best to dismantle a police department and rebuild something that still protects the public while removing historic racial biases,” Evensen explains. “Maybe this person also can explain how to do this with a lot less money. Let’s hope so.”