Biden supports reform but not the ‘defund police’ movement

Democrat presidential candidate breaks with those who want to see police funds diverted to community-led safety models.

Joe Biden Philadelphia
Biden's stance that police reforms can be done within existing law enforcement agencies is at odds with the progressive wing of the Democratic party [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Joe Biden and other Democrats in the United States on Monday distanced themselves from the growing chorus of progressives in their party calling for efforts to “defund” police departments in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

A spokesman for the Biden presidential campaign said on Monday that the candidate does not support such efforts, echoing Democrats in the US Congress who proposed sweeping legislation to combat police violence and racial injustice but stopped short of calling for funding cuts to local law enforcement.

“As his criminal justice proposal made clear months ago, Vice President Biden does not believe that police should be defunded,” Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s campaign, told the Reuters News Agency.

“Biden supports the urgent need for reform, including funding for public schools, summer programmes, and mental health and substance abuse treatment separate from funding for policing, so that officers can focus on the job of policing.”

He believes that can be done within existing law enforcement agencies.


Weighing cuts

In Minneapolis, where Floyd died, city council members have pledged to dismantle the police department in favour of a community-led safety model. Other cities, including Los Angeles and New York, are weighing cuts to police funding.

Supporters of the defund movement insist it is not about eliminating police departments or stripping agencies of all of their money. Rather, they say it is to convince the country to address systemic problems in policing in the United States and spend more on what communities across the country need, such as housing and education.

President Donald Trump and other Republicans, sensing electoral advantage in their law-and-order message, see things otherwise. They pounced on Biden and the Democrats over the weekend, saying that “radical left” elements within the party were out to cripple law enforcement and insinuating without evidence that Biden would do the same to the US military.

“There won’t be defunding, there won’t be dismantling of our police,” Trump told a roundtable of state, federal, and local law enforcement officials at the White House on Monday.


His spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump believes that there have been “instances” of police brutality in the US and that he would be reviewing reform proposals, but is “appalled” by the idea of cutting back funds to police departments.

McEnany said the president has issues with some of the policy proposals put forth by Congressional Democrats on Monday. The notion of reduced immunity for officers, she said, was a “non-starter”.

Trump began the week hoping to claw his way out of one of the lowest points of his presidency, with his caustic style of leadership proving to be a hindrance in the face of crises over the coronavirus pandemic, the related economic fallout and nationwide protests.

An NBC News/Wall St Journal poll (pdf) released over the weekend suggested that some eight in 10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and even spiralling out of control with 59 percent more concerned with police action compared with 27 percent of those worried about the protests turned violent.

Trump’s willingness to use race to inflame tensions is a defining characteristic of his political brand, and he has so far shown little inclination to shift course because of the Floyd protests. He has repeatedly highlighted looting and protest-related violence, even as it subsides, and referred to protesters as “thugs”, while largely ignoring their concerns in his public comments.

Moving to position himself as a healer-in-chief instead of a divider-in-chief, Biden, meanwhile, travelled to Houston on Monday for a private meeting with members of Floyd’s family. He is not expected to attend Floyd’s funeral Tuesday, and will instead provide a video message of support.

“Listening to one another is what will begin to heal America,” a lawyer representing the Floyd family, Ben Crump, tweeted after Biden’s meeting with the Floyd family. “He listened, he heard their pain, and shared in their woe. That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies