by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The terseness of the demand is shocking. It is also perplexing. When I typed “Defund the Police” into Google the other day, the first and second search prompts were for “meaning” and “what does it mean.” That depends on whom you ask. For its progenitors and most committed advocates, Defund the Police is a call to take the first steps toward police abolition and a revolutionary restructuring of society. For second-hand dealers in ideas, however—by which I mean journalists and politicians—the words “Defund the Police” are nothing but code for budget cuts or reforms intended to reduce police brutality without turning the world upside down.
The journey of Defund the Police from radical demand to mainstream shibboleth is more than a reminder of the left’s grip on American cultural institutions. It also exposes the dilemmas and tensions of a Democratic Party perhaps on the verge of winning the White House. …
… “Defund the Police” is a more ambiguous expression, and therefore less threatening to potential allies, than “Abolish the Police.” The genius of the phrase is that it encompasses both means and end.
Non-radical progressives tend to focus on the means—a reduction in police budgets and the reassignment of those moneys to community services. Radical progressives like the end-abolition and other “robust visions for the future.” And some progressives toggle between these meanings indiscriminately, so that defunding becomes the first of a series of steps toward replacing police officers with social workers. …
… The word that does not appear in these romantic evocations of a world without police is “crime.” Violent crime does not exist in the radical cosmology. But fear of crime is the largest obstacle to the activists’ dreams. And fear of crime and other unanticipated consequences explains why Joe Biden said he did not support defunding the police.