WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Democrats have largely embraced the activists packing into streets nationwide to decry the killings of black men and women by law enforcement but so far express wariness at protesters’ calls to defund the police.
While they are clearly attuned to the cries of demonstrators from New York to Los Angeles, some top Democratic elected officials are proceeding cautiously with any suggestion they would slash police budgets to fund programs to address other social ills.
Senator Cory Booker said during an interview Sunday on NBC News that he understood the sentiment behind the “defund the police” push but would not use that phrase.
“We are over-policed as a society,” he said, adding that spending on police departments was not solving problems.
Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York said on Sunday said he did not support any plans to cut police funding in his state.
“You have to look at that on a case-by-case basis,” Jeffries told CNN.
Democrats led by black lawmakers are set to introduce legislation on Monday to combat police violence and racial injustice, including making it easier to sue officers who kill. Whether the bill will include any cuts to federal funding for police departments remains unclear.
California Representative Karen Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of the driving forces behind that package, said on Sunday that she opposed disbanding police departments but that funding priorities should be evaluated.
“I don’t believe that you should disband police departments,” she said on CNN. “We need to look at how we are spending the resources and invest more in our communities.”
Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — the state where the police killing of George Floyd sparked the current wave of protests — on Friday called for the Minneapolis police department to be disbanded, tweeting that it was “beyond reform.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was jeered by protesters on Saturday after he told them he opposed their demands to defund police.
President Donald Trump has seized on the funding issue as an attack line against his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Sleepy Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats want to ‘DEFUND THE POLICE,'” Trump wrote in a Sunday tweet. “I want great and well paid LAW ENFORCEMENT. I want LAW & ORDER!”
A Biden campaign spokesman declined to comment.
Biden had pledged a slate of criminal justice reforms before the latest wave of protests. They include stepping up Department of Justice investigations of police abuse and increased funding to build ties between police and community members.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)