In the wake of the George Floyd riots, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has joined the mayors of Los Angeles and San Francisco with a pledge to “defund” the police department.
“Defunding” is an ambiguous and charged term. It does not necessarily mean what some, including the Black Lives Matter agitators and nine of the 12 members of the Minneapolis City Council, have in mind, which is abolishing police departments.
The idea would be absurd even during normal times. But after the mayhem visited on dozens of American cities in the past two weeks, when people had an opportunity to experience what life without police protection might be like, as they stood aside during days of burning and looting, the notion of doing away with law enforcement is, or should be, too extreme and irrational to contemplate, no matter the outrage against police brutality.
Fortunately, that’s not what de Blasio has in mind. What he is proposing is something apparently more moderate — a transfer of funding from the NYPD budget to youth initiatives and social services.
“We are committed to shifting resources to ensure that the focus is on our young people,”& de Blasio said on Twitter.
The mayor did not specify the sums he had in mind. But hundreds of former and current de Blasio staffers did. In an open letter to the mayor, they called on him to cut the NYPD budget by $1 billion.& They make Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, who proposed cutting $150 million from the LAPD, look like a reactionary.
“I also will affirm, while doing that, we will only do it in a way that we are certain continues to ensure that this city will be safe,” de Blasio added.
New Yorkers who were terrified by rampaging mobs in recent days will not be reassured.
Viewed in context, this is not a moment of enlightenment in which youth initiatives have somehow caught the imagination of municipal managers, but a clearly punitive measure in reaction to the killing of George Floyd. It is a message sent to the police in New York and elsewhere that their services are not wanted, that they are not worthy of full public support.
Any significant defunding would be a demoralizing measure, a vote of no confidence, for the NYPD officers who daily put their lives on the line to protect the public, and it would also greatly endanger that public.
In 1983, the conservative writer Irving Kristol famously wrote: “A neoconservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.”
The implication is that an encounter with harsh reality can yield a change in worldview of the naïve liberal idealist.
But in this case, the whole country was mugged by reality. Yet the call for defunding does not desist, it only gets stronger. Perhaps in 2020, the psychological truths of 1983 no longer apply.
An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll released this week found that 80 percent of Americans think “the country has gotten out of control.”
If people think it’s out of control now, wait until police departments are defunded, or even abolished. We had a glimpse of that when police were ordered to stand aside while the mobs burned and looted the downtown areas of some of America’s largest cities.
It is the police, imperfect though they are, who stand between the law-abiding citizenry and an anarchy potentially far worse than we have seen in the past two weeks.
When things get back to normal, the country will still have to reckon with the FBI statistic that 16,214 people were murdered& in the United States in 2018. Add to that all the lesser crimes — assault, theft, vandalism, etc. Then subtract large sums from the budgets of local police departments, and it’s not hard to imagine that the outcome will not be a more peaceful, law-abiding society.
During the recent rioting ostensibly to protest the killing of George Floyd, at least a dozen innocent people were killed.
One of them was David Dorn, 77, who was killed while trying to protect a friend’s pawnshop from looters in St. Louis.
As Curtis Hill, the attorney general of Indiana noted, “Dorn, a black man, was a retired police captain. His black life mattered. The fact that he was killed by looters rather than by white police officers does not make his death any less tragic.”
A former colleague recalled Dorn as someone “very dedicated to youth, especially disadvantaged youth” who “wanted to see them succeed.” Dorn “wanted to be a role model for those young men and women.”
Thanks to those youthful looters — and the absence of police on the scene — Dorn won’t be a role model anymore, at least not a living one.
If law enforcement had been more assertive on that day, Dorn’s life might have been saved.
Defunding police departments is not the answer that America needs and seeks.