“Defund the Police” is over but the hard work of criminal justice reform remains undone.
The news on left-leaning media outlet Axios today for the hyper-progressive wing of the Democratic Party wasn’t good: “Squad Politics Backfire” doesn’t leave a great deal of room for interpretation.
“The push to defund the police, rename schools and tear down statues has created a significant obstacle to Democrats keeping control of the House, the Senate and the party’s overall image,” concludes Axios grimly, echoing a sentiment coming from many Democratic Party quarters in the past months.
The recent San Francisco school board recall successfully ousted the three most progressive members on the board in a landslide; the only three, incidentally, who had served long enough to be eligible for recall.
Amid the usual hewn cries after such a bellwether- why it matters, why it doesn’t really matter all that much, dire interpretations of what it might mean countered by those loud insisting it means nothing at all- are some discussions about what, if anything, might be done about it.
The same happened after Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the race for Virginia governor in November 2021.
The only difference this time, is that the chorus of voices defending controversial far-left progressive positions like “Defund the Police,” have dwindled down to a group, as Axios inadvertently pointed out, consisting of a “Squad” of about half a dozen members.
Away from Twitter, and without the heavyweight fundraising prowess accompanying millions of online “followers”, the Squad has little real power. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself once remarked about the militant left members of her caucus: “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world, but they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
Since the 2020 election, the Squad has gained a few more members. But as the San Francisco school board recall just proved, getting voted in last year doesn’t mean job security for elected officials.
The usual tides of politics have swelled into tsunamis of mercurial public opinion. Any politician popular this year can become unpopular next year; the opposite may be true as well.
The news that some progressive policy proposals are unpopular with voters isn’t exactly new to most moderates in the party, especially those in swing districts. From this quarter, there has been the usual clamor for a return to the center.
To counter this negative trend toward a trouncing in the upcoming election and perhaps another after that in 2024, these doomsayers insist, Democrats need to pivot: Robust support for police, a move away from the “open borders” policies embraced by far-left progressives, a focus on lowering taxes and taming inflation.
Many in the Democratic Party don’t agree. The way to win elections, this group counters, isn’t to try to out-Republican Republicans.
While it is important for the Democratic Party to do some soul-searching in the months remaining until November 2022- especially in light of how much things like lengthy public school closures and sharply rising crime have hurt disadvantaged communities- a false dichotomy won’t help.
It isn’t that the public has turned against criminal justice reform. Democratic Party voters certainly haven’t turned away from it and judging by the Republican passage of the FIRST STEP Act during the Trump years, Republican moderates are open to it, too.
It is just that “Defund the Police” was a dumb and dangerous proposition which almost no one believes our society is in any way ready for, even if it were possible to achieve it in an evenly-divided representative democracy like this one.
Democrats don’t need to pivot 180 degrees to a “tough on crime” approach: They need a more sensible and feasible approach to criminal justice reform.
The first steps will be so easy, getting bipartisan support for them is well within reach.
Ending for-profit prisons would be a wonderful place to start. For-profit prisons have no place in a free market economy because they are not a free market idea. Forced labor, any way you slice it, is a threat to the free market, not to mention morally reprehensible.
Ending no-knock warrants would also gain widespread support. These dangerous police SWAT operations often result in loss of life. Police officers, criminal suspects, and even innocent bystanders are often killed.
In 2020, Republican Sen. Rand Paul introduced the “Justice for Breonna Taylor Act” aimed at ending the types of no-knock warrants that resulted in her death at the hands of police. The bill had plenty of Republican support. All Democrats need do is introduce a bill. Let a Republican co-sponsor it; as a wise man once said, you can accomplish anything if you don’t care who gets the credit.
While the Democratic Party decides what to do about plummeting poll numbers, a rash of Democratic retirements and a host of other issues, it can’t afford to lose sight of important priorities like criminal justice reform.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)