On the menu today: The arguments in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who put his knee on the neck and back of George Floyd, are complete, and jury deliberations begin Monday. With Minneapolis — and the rest of the country — holding its breath in tense anticipation of a verdict, it seems like a good time to take a deep dive into the angry national debate about policing — and why the blame game doesn’t follow the simple partisan lines some would prefer.
The Failure of ‘Defund the Police’ and Trying to Enforce Laws in the Biden Era
The issue of policing in America shouldn’t be such an angry and contentious one. In theory, no one wants to see 13-year-olds shot and killed by police. Yes, citizens should obey a police order to stop. But no citizen deserves to die over it, and certainly no one who is just starting out in life — especially not one who is obeying a police order when he’s shot and killed.
No one wants to see a police officer mix up her firearm and her Taser and accidentally use lethal force when she intended to use electricity. There is a jaw-dropping assertion in a piece from Jack Dunphy, the pen name of a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department:
I am aware of 16 prior shootings in the United States over the last 20 years in which a police officer intended to use a Taser but instead fired a pistol and injured someone. (There may have been other incidents in which no one was injured, but I have no data on such cases.) Three of these shootings resulted in deaths, and in two of those cases the officers were charged, convicted, and imprisoned.
Perhaps, when Donald Trump was president, Democrats saw value in positioning themselves as being on the side of the political aisle that stood with young African-American men against the police — harkening back to the 1960s and placing Baby Boomer and subsequent Boomer-influenced Democrats in their familiar anti-establishment, anti-authority role. In a battle between Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and the anti-war protesters outside the 1968 Democratic Convention, Democrats knew which side they saw as morally right and vindicated.
But as many of us have pointed out in the past few years, America’s major cities, particularly the ones that have tense relationships between black communities and heavily white police forces, are almost entirely Democratic run. Their city councils are Democratic. Their mayors are Democratic. In many cases, the governors of the states are Democratic. In the majority of these circumstances, there are no Republicans to blame. And for a little while, some non-conservative media institutions started asking the uncomfortable question of why Democrats, who insisted they always opposed racism, ran cities where African Americans perceived the police forces as irredeemably racist. As Benjamin Wallace-Wells put it in The New Yorker, “A whole generation of Democratic mayors have seen their reputations defined by their inability to manage the aftermath of police killings: Rawlings-Blake in Baltimore, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, Bill de Blasio in New York, Pete Buttigieg in South Bend.”
(Running a city well is hard, and I think some of the media-celebrated cases of urban renewal over the past few decades have put too much emphasis on big, glamorous downtown projects and not enough emphasis on the basics of governance and quality of life — good schools, reasonable cost of living, and safe streets.)
Sometimes, this desire by Democratic officials to distance themselves from the police forces they oversee reaches absurd heights. Back in June, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy violated his own executive order banning gathering in large groups by walking an anti-police-brutality march in Hillside. Who does he think the New Jersey…