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Despite public perception, the Democratic Party is equally committed to supporting and increasing funding for the police

August 14, 2022

In recent years the issue of policing has come under greater scrutiny, particularly by BIPOC communities that have disproportionately been the target of police surveillance, harassment, violence and arrest. 

The public has been confronted by the issue of policing, especially since the police murder of Michael Brown in 2014, followed by a series of other policing killings of Black people, which culminated in the protests that erupted after the death George Floyd in 2020.

The Movement for Black Lives, along with numerous other BIPOC-led movements dealing with policing and the Prison Industrial Complex, had been critical of the mild and incremental reforms that had been proposed every time a Black person was murdered by the police. When the 2020 uprisings took place, these movements began demanding that the police should be defunded, which was a strategy within a larger goal police abolition.

The idea of defunding or abolishing the police was a radical idea, which resonated with lots of people who were part of the Black Freedom Struggle and other liberation movements within the US. However, many mainstream progressives and liberals not only pushed back around the possibility of abolishing or defunding the police, that they even decided to create their own narratives around what defunding the police actually meant. These narratives not only sought to undermine the very idea of the defund/abolish framework, it was completely counter to what the Movement for Black Lives was proposing, as we noted in a July 2021 post.

In fact, it was white liberals and progressive that went out of their way to undermine the work of the Movement for Black Lives, through their attempts to “clarify” what defunding the police really meant. This was particularly the case for those with the Democratic Party.

The re-framing of what defunding the police meant by Democrats is generally argued as a response to the GOP who conflated the Democrats with Black Lives Matter activists and/or antifa radicals. There may be some truth to this, but it is very thin. The Democratic Party establishment has always been committed to supporting and defending law enforcement agencies in the US, ever since policing and policing departments became established in the 19th Century. The Democratic Party has been equally committed to taking police union funding during electoral cycles, which has always resulted in the pro-police legislation that has been adopted, like the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, more commonly known as the Crime Bill.

One way to gauge the Democratic Party support for policing is to look at their reaction after the 2020 uprisings. While Joe Biden was running for the Presidency in 2020, he made it clear that he was committed to better training and an increase of funding for cops. 

Just this past May, the Biden Administration released a plan for a multi-billion dollar effort to fund policing around the country, in what Biden is calling the American Rescue Plan. Then in late July, the Biden Administration was requesting an additional $37 Billion in funding for the police, in what the White House is calling the Safer America Plan.

At the State level, we have been tracking how the Democratic Party has maintained the same position on policing, with mild reformist rhetoric, but always a call for adding more police officers and more funding for the cops. Last December, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a nearly unanimous bill that would provide an additional $300 Million for policing.

Just last month, there was also bi-partisan support at the state level to provide an additional $20 Million for the Michigan State Police. State Representative David LaGand was quoted as saying of this bi-partisan support, “I’m especially proud to see that several of my priorities are part of the final budget, including funding for public safety. We’ve included grants for community policing.

The commitment to policing and police funding is also part of the platforms of several Democrats running for state office from West Michigan. Part of that commitment is due to the fact that these Democrats who are either State Senators or State Representatives have received substantial amounts of campaign contributions from police unions. For example, since 2014, State Senator Winnie Brinks has received $5000 in campaign contributions from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association PAC.

State Representative David LaGrand, who is running for State Senate, has under the title of Criminal Justice Reform, that he “introduced legislation to support public safety in communities.” The reality is that the legislation LaGrand introduced involves hiring more State Police Officers and provides grants to local communities to add more cops.

Democratic State Representative candidates from West Michigan have also made it clear that they support the police, more funding for the police and some of them have received campaign contributions from the GRPD union during their political careers. Phil Skaggs, running for State Representative, has received funding from the GRPD union and he believes in ongoing support for police departments, along with additional funding for training. These sentiments from Phil Skaggs are clearly reflected in his statement on April 14th, after he watched the video that was released by the GRPD on the police shooting of Patrick Lyoya, which you can read on his Facebook page. In that statement Skaggs praises cops for “keeping us safe”, plus he advocates for more training and more support for Law Enforcement agencies. 

Another Democratic State Representative who is running for re-election, is Rachel Hood. In a recent paid ad for her campaign, Hood advocates for Safe and Strong Communities, where she touts the $368.5 million in funding for hiring and retaining cops. 

One last example is Democratic Candidate for State Representative, Kristian Grant. On Grant’s campaign platform page, she makes it clear that she supports police departments and believes there needs to be more training and more hiring by police departments, specifically to hire more cops from the communities they will work in.

At the local level, the Kent County Commission did nothing to end the contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the contract ended primarily because of the pressure that the Immigrant Justice Movement applied on Kent County. With Grand Rapids City officials, there has also been tremendous resistance to defunding the GRPD. Within a month after the May 30, 2020 uprising in Grand Rapids, the City of Grand Rapids had heard from 3,000 – 4,000 residents demanding that the GRPD be funded to the 32% minimum that was mandated by the 1995 City Charter. This demand continued and was amplified after the GRPD murdered Patrick Lyoya, but despite the ongoing pressure, no City official – not the City Manager, the Mayor, nor the six Commissioners – have been willing to call for the defunding of the GRPD. 

In addition, I think it is worth mentioning that a few months ago, someone who attended a Kent County Democratic Party meeting, told me that Democratic candidates were told to not make waves at the Grand Rapids City Commission meetings around the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya. Democratic Party candidates were also told to not be seen as supporting the Justice4Patrick movement that has been challenging Grand Rapids City officials during commission meetings.

If you are interested in supporting the efforts to defund the police and/or abolish the system of policing, then it would be impossible for those objectives to be won by voting for Democrats. The Democratic Party has demonstrated since the 2020 uprisings that they are equally committed to hiring more cops and voting for more funding for police departments. 

Not one single Democratic official or Democratic Party candidate in the West Michigan area is calling for a reduction of funding for police departments or the abolition of policing. Therefore, we cannot rely on the so-called liberal political party to achieve the goals of defunding and the abolition of policing in this community. If we want to defund the cops and then abolish them, we will have to use Direct Action as a primary strategy and build movements that can win such goals. 

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