The campaign of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is being forced to grapple with a new political landscape that includes creeping support within the party for defunding the police, a notion that is anathema to moderate swing-state voters Biden desperately needs.
The “defund the police” movement has its roots in the kind of political radicalism accompanying the Weatherman bombings of the 1970s. But the idea is now seeing support among mainstream Democrats, including a senior adviser to 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Many Democrats and left-wing activists have dropped calls for reforming law enforcement in the country and instead opted to demand the police lose their funding altogether.
“Defund the police,” Brian Fallon, who also served as a spokesman for Attorney General Eric Holder, tweeted on Wednesday. That sentiment was extended to sitting Democratic politicians, including members of the Minneapolis City Council, where some of the worst rioting and looting occurred.
Biden’s campaign remains worried supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are still suspicious of his candidacy. Many of Sanders’s most vocal supporters, including the Democratic Socialists of America, have joined calls to “defund the police.”
In particular, black voters under the age of 35, have failed to unite behind Biden. In many primaries, even in the South, those voters broke for Sanders.
On Thursday, the Vermont senator reiterated his call that all police departments found “violating people’s civil rights … be stripped of federal funding.” That position was in his 2020 presidential platform, but it gained new relevance in the wake of the riots sweeping American cities due to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody.
Biden’s campaign platform calls for increased funding to the Department of Justice COPS program, which issues grants to police departments to hire officers focused on “community policing.” The campaign did not respond to a request for comment from the Washington Examiner on whether it supports the “defund the police” movement. Several high-profile Democrats who have pledged they will vote for Biden in November, such as Ilhan Omar, have supported disbanding the police in Minneapolis.
The Black Lives Matter movement, of which Biden counts himself an ally, recently circulated a petition calling for a “national defunding of police. We demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive.”
Despite Biden’s silence on the issue, the Trump campaign is preparing to use the demands by the Democratic Party’s far-left base to discredit the former vice president’s leadership.
“Joe Biden’s allies want to remove the necessary resources of the men and women who are called to protect our communities,” Trump campaign director of communications Tim Murtaugh told the Washington Examiner. “Whether it be officials at the National Association of Police Organizations or the Fraternal Order of Police, it should come as no surprise that the thousands of brave men and women dressed in blue know that Joe Biden and his party are no ally of law and order.”
Public polling on the issue shows only a small minority supports cutting funding to law enforcement, with most voters preferring incremental reforms such as banning chokeholds or restrictions on lethal use of force.
“We are going to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department. And when we’re done, we’re not simply gonna glue it back together,” tweeted Minneapolis Ward 5 representative Jeremiah Ellison. “We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response. It’s really past due.”
Ellison, who is the son of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, received support from Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender. Although not the first time she has called for the abolition of law enforcement, Bender wrote on Twitter, “If you are a comfortable white person asking to dismantle the police, I invite you to reflect: are you willing to stick with it? White ppl need to show up for this.”
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez introduced a motion on Wednesday to cut back funding for the Los Angeles Police Department, calling it “just one small step,” as part of a “reset” of the city government’s “priorities.” The city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, tried calming riots on Wednesday by saying he was looking into cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department’s $150 million budget. Garcetti also serves as a co-chair for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
One Democratic House member, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, has said she’s considering the merits of defunding the police, writing on Twitter, “I just want us to dig deeper so that the #DefundPolice movement isn’t brushed aside.”
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