In Big Cities, It’s Democrats Who Have Poured Money Into Policing

Democratic mayors of Los Angeles, New York and Minneapolis have treated bloated police budgets as sacrosanct.

Sonali Kolhatkar / Independent Media Institute June 8, 2020

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announces increased policing on March 22, 2016, in response to terrorist attacks in Belgium. In 2020, de Blasio proposed cuts to the school budget to cover Covid-19-related losses that were 27 times larger than proposed cuts to the police budget. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Not since the mass protests that orig­i­nat­ed in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, in 2014 when a white police offi­cer killed a black man named Michael Brown has the Unit­ed States wit­nessed the cur­rent mag­ni­tude of the move­ment against police bru­tal­i­ty. The bru­tal video­taped killing of George Floyd in Min­neapo­lis on May 25, 2020, has pushed Amer­i­cans to the lim­it of what they will tol­er­ate from police. Huge, mul­tira­cial protests have bro­ken out in hun­dreds of cities demand­ing an end to racist polic­ing. While many of the prob­lems can be laid at the feet of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, whose admin­is­tra­tion oblit­er­at­ed the mod­est Oba­ma-era police reforms and who has delight­ed in open­ly encour­ag­ing police to be vio­lent, the cur­rent sta­tus quo of accept­ing and encour­ag­ing racist and mur­der­ous polic­ing has been a large­ly bipar­ti­san project at the fed­er­al, state and local level.

Protests against police bru­tal­i­ty have a long his­to­ry that pre­dates the ral­ly­ing cry of Black Lives Mat­ter” becom­ing a house­hold phrase. Well before Trump was on the nation­al scene, Democ­rats and Repub­li­can lead­ers have had many years to right the wrongs that black activists and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers were decry­ing. After Rod­ney King’s bru­tal beat­ing was caught on tape in Los Ange­les and the acquit­tal of his abusers sparked a his­toric and vio­lent upris­ing, there were years of reforms aimed at the Los Ange­les Police Depart­ment (LAPD) that result­ed in only the mildest changes. The lib­er­al city, dom­i­nat­ed by Democ­rats, con­tin­ues to have the largest num­ber of police killings nation­wide and to date, the city’s first black female dis­trict attor­ney, Jack­ie Lacey, has refused to pros­e­cute a sin­gle offi­cer dur­ing her tenure.

When Eric Gar­ner was choked to death by police in Stat­en Island, New York City, his hor­rif­ic killing, cap­tured on video, and his last words, I can’t breathe,” sparked mass protests and deep dis­course about reform­ing police pro­to­cols. But just as in Los Ange­les, the core demand that activists have been mak­ing at least since the police mur­der of Amadou Dial­lo—that those who vio­late rights should be held legal­ly account­able—has gone unmet. Daniel Pan­ta­leo, the New York Police Depart­ment (NYPD) offi­cer who put Gar­ner in a choke­hold, remained on the force for five years and was ulti­mate­ly fired but nev­er charged. Like the LAPD, the NYPD has enjoyed the pro­tec­tion of a large­ly lib­er­al and Demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal landscape.

Dur­ing the pres­i­den­cy of Barack Oba­ma, some mod­est reforms were enact­ed at the fed­er­al lev­el, large­ly through exec­u­tive orders as Con­gress remained unable to break through polit­i­cal grid­lock. Obama’s fed­er­al over­sight of police depart­ments through court-ordered con­sent decrees was a start, but in his last act as Trump’s attor­ney gen­er­al, Jeff Ses­sions signed a mem­o­ran­dum that undid the Oba­ma-era con­sent decrees before step­ping down. Trump also resumed the flow of mil­i­tary equip­ment and weapons to local police departments.

Now, as mass protests are tak­ing place all over the nation, the images of well-armed and flak-jack­et­ed police fac­ing off against pro­test­ers and vio­lent­ly sub­du­ing them while remain­ing encased in pro­tec­tive gear stands in stark con­trast to our des­per­ate­ly under-equipped health care work­ers who have been vain­ly try­ing to save as many lives as pos­si­ble dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. Police are clad head to toe in high-tech gear, face shields and body armor, with no short­age of plas­tic hand­cuffs, rub­ber bul­lets, and tear gas can­is­ters. The optics of these mod­ern-day gestapo-like forces roam­ing city streets, bash­ing in heads and fir­ing tear gas into the faces of unarmed pro­test­ers are a reminder of just how many fed­er­al and state-lev­el resources we have poured into law enforce­ment over the years at the expense of health care, edu­ca­tion, and oth­er pub­lic needs.

Even as the eco­nom­ic col­lapse trig­gered by the pan­dem­ic threat­ened to dev­as­tate pub­lic school sys­tems, in the lib­er­al havens of Los Ange­les and New York City, law enforce­ment bud­gets remained unscathed. California’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic Gov­er­nor Gavin New­som pro­posed big cuts to schools to com­pen­sate for mas­sive bud­get short­falls at the same time that LAPD offi­cers were receiv­ing $41 mil­lion in bonus­es. LA’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic May­or Eric Garcetti recent­ly released this year’s pro­posed city bud­get—typ­i­cal of pre­vi­ous years — which sets aside a whop­ping one-third of all city spend­ing on police.

Sim­i­lar­ly in New York City, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic May­or Bill de Blasio’s pro­pos­al to com­pen­sate for pan­dem­ic-relat­ed rev­enue loss­es is to make cuts to the school bud­get that are 27 times that of his city’s police bud­get cuts. Alice Speri writ­ing in The Inter­cept explains that, The U.S. spends some $100 bil­lion annu­al­ly on polic­ing,” and in cities across the coun­try, polic­ing alone can take up any­thing between a third and 60 per­cent of the entire annu­al bud­get.” And while the pan­dem­ic is forc­ing cities to make hard choic­es about which pub­lic ser­vices to slash, police depart­ment bud­gets have remained immune to cuts. Lib­er­al cities like LA, New York and Min­neapo­lis, in the words of one jour­nal­ist, keep pil­ing mon­ey on police depart­ments.

Just as con­gres­sion­al Democ­rats for far too long have poured mon­ey into the U.S. mil­i­tary to fuel wars abroad—even out­do­ing Trump’s thirst for mil­i­tary largesse—the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party’s state and local lead­ers have poured mon­ey into our domes­tic armed forces — the police — to fuel a war on us, and espe­cial­ly those among us with black or brown skin.

Now, because the col­lec­tive pub­lic rage over police vio­lence and impuni­ty has reached a fever pitch, some­thing extra­or­di­nary is hap­pen­ing. A long-stand­ing activist call to defund the police is receiv­ing a main­stream plat­form. On May 30, the New York Times pub­lished an op-ed by two advo­cates of Black Lives Mat­ter enti­tled No More Mon­ey for the Police.” Black Lives Mat­ter has explic­it­ly called for, a nation­al defund­ing of police,” and is demand­ing, invest­ment in our com­mu­ni­ties and the resources to ensure Black peo­ple not only sur­vive, but thrive.”

Author Alex Vitale’s 2018 book, The End of Polic­ing, apt­ly artic­u­lat­ed on its cov­er that, The prob­lem is not police train­ing, police diver­si­ty, or police meth­ods. The prob­lem is the dra­mat­ic and unprece­dent­ed expan­sion and inten­si­ty of polic­ing in the last forty years, a fun­da­men­tal shift in the role of police in soci­ety. The prob­lem is polic­ing itself.” Vitale’s work has tak­en on new urgency dur­ing the protests over George Floyd’s killing. In a recent piece he wrote for The Guardian, he explained that the solu­tion for local author­i­ties to tack­le police, is to dra­mat­i­cal­ly shrink their func­tion.” Vitale added, We must demand that local politi­cians devel­op non-police solu­tions to the prob­lems poor peo­ple face.”

That means may­ors and gov­er­nors from all parts of the polit­i­cal spec­trum need to stop sub­scrib­ing to the notion that police can solve prob­lems caused by poor edu­ca­tion, health care, and jobs, and direct­ly start divert­ing mon­ey from police into edu­ca­tion, health care, and jobs. Lib­er­al lead­ers in par­tic­u­lar, who have paid mere lip ser­vice for years to social jus­tice, need to put their mon­ey where their mouth is and wrest it out of the hands of police departments.

The current status quo of accepting and encouraging racist and murderous policing has been a largely bipartisan project at the federal, state and local level.

This arti­cle was pro­duced by Econ­o­my for All, a project of the Inde­pen­dent Media Insti­tute.

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