In the wake of George Floyd’s death, calls to “defund the police” have in a matter of days escalated from a fringe campaign to a celebrity-backed cause to part of the municipal mainstream — and now appear primed to spur official action, to varying degrees, in cities across the country.
The stunning momentum behind the movement has fueled Republican criticism that “radical” ideas are being readily embraced by Democrats.
On the ground, however, there is a visible conflict between Democrats on board with “defund” and those who want to seek reforms without actually dismantling police departments. This split, and the sudden power that activists wield over local officials on the issue, was perhaps best illustrated over the weekend when Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey faced a crowd of protesters asking him whether he would support abolishing the city’s police department.
Frey, while promising reform to the city’s “systemically racist” policing system and saying “the police union needs to be put in its place,” was asked a “yes or no” question by a protester if he would “commit to defunding the Minneapolis Police Department.”
“We don’t want no more police,” the woman questioning him continued. “Is that clear? We don’t want people with guns toting around in our communities, shooting us down.”
“I do not support the abolition” of the police department, Frey said.
He was immediately shouted down. “Get the f— out of here,” the protester responded as others loudly booed Frey, who later reiterated his commitment to reforming the department, despite saying he would not dismantle it entirely.
The movement, like protests across the country, is driven by anger over Floyd’s death in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Supporters of the move told Fox News, “We recognize that we don’t have all the answers about what a police-free future looks like, but our community does. We’re committing to engaging with every willing community member in the city of Minneapolis over the next year to identify what safety looks like for you.”
The calls for dismantling the city police are perhaps the loudest from City Council member Jeremiah Ellison, the son of state Attorney General Keith Ellison. The younger Ellison has said that after taking apart the police department, “we’re not simply gonna glue it back together. We are going to dramatically rethink how we approach public safety and emergency response. It’s really past due.”
What defunding the police looks like is different in various localities. In Minneapolis, the supermajority of the city council seemingly supports a complete structural dismantling of the department. In other places, departments would remain in place but get less government resources, with some of their funding directed toward social justice programs.
President Trump on Monday issued a broad condemnation of the “defund” push.
“LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE. The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!” he tweeted.
The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti plans to cut up to $150 million from that city’s police department and redistribute the money to “black communities and communities of color.”
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced over the weekend that he would be diverting funding for the New York Police Department toward social services.
“The details will be worked out in the budget process in the weeks ahead. But, I want people to understand that we are committed to shifting resources to ensure that the focus is on our young people,” de Blasio said.
The movement is swiftly gaining mainstream acceptance, as illustrated by a “Defund the police” tweet from Brian Fallon, the former press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign who previously worked for then-President Barack Obama’s justice department and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
But it’s also garnered criticism from some on the right.
“This is dangerous, counterproductive, and deeply irrational,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said in response to a news story on the Minneapolis movement. “‘Defund the police’ is not a call from the fringes of the far left anymore. It has gone from a radical slogan to actual policy in a major American city, within days.”
Calls for defunding the police are also coming in from politicians in Chicago, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C. and more. Celebrities including Lizzo, John Legend and Jane Fonda have also jumped on the bandwagon, signing an open letter demanding police departments be defunded.
The pressure from the movement has made politicians reluctant to commit even the slightest affront to those who are calling for the defunding of police.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Murial Bowser on Friday dedicated “Black Lives Matter Plaza” on a street near the White House. Later, protesters added an equals sign and the words “defund the police” to the mural. When asked whether she would remove the unauthorized changes to her government’s street mural on ABC’s “This Week,” Bowser was noncommittal.
“We certainly are very proud of the D.C. mural that we commissioned and our department of public works and local artists installed. It is an affirmative piece of art,” she said, not answering the host’s question.
When asked again, Bowser said, “[i]t’s not a part of the mural and we certainly encourage expression, but we are using the city streets for city art… I actually haven’t had an opportunity to review it.”
The Washington Post reported that on Sunday, city employees painted over the equals sign, which the protesters had originally made from a D.C. flag, but left the “defund the police” as is.
In another example of the power of the movement, Democratic California state Sen. Scott Wiener was pressured last week by his left-wing opponent into swearing off contributions from police unions and donating them to charity. He did.
But his opponent, Jackie Fielder, immediately countered that he was not going far enough, and could theoretically still accept contributions from organizations funded by police unions and that he was not giving back money he received from police unions as early as 2015.
“No loopholes,” Fielder, who has amplified calls saying Garcetti’s proposed cuts to the Los Angeles Police Department budget aren’t enough, said.
Fox News’ Peter Aitken contributed to this report.