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COLUMNS

Bozelko column: Aligning the extremes in defunding the police

Chandra Bozelko
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St. James Plaindealer

Columns share an author’s personal perspective.

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Senate Republicans’ and President Donald Trump’s resistance to the HEROES Act - the $3 trillion stimulus and recovery bill passed by the House of Representatives May 15 - entails direct opposition to states and municipalities - including state and local police departments - getting the monies they need to sustain themselves.

Republicans’ stance on pandemic-response legislation isn’t the only way they’re pinching pennies for patrolmen. The Trump administration’s 2020 fiscal year budget cut funding for local law enforcement by $515 million - including a $170 million cut to the Community Oriented Policing Services program, which is dedicated to hiring and training local police departments.

Then states like California, Connecticut and New Jersey were already facing capricious cuts to their federal financial lifelines because they offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

The president reprised this decision to defund cities and places that displease him Sept. 2 when he signed a memo directing the Department of Justice and the Office of Management and Budget to come up with ways to deny dollars to “anarchist jurisdictions” - New York City, Seattle, Portland and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

As it stands right now, Republicans are the biggest defunders of the police - and the biggest projectors of defunding, too.

It’s exactly the accusation they’re levying against the Democrats, blasting the “left’s radical proposals to defund the police.”

But former Vice President Joe Biden said he plans on investing more money to the cops if he’s elected president. Even The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network and an inveterate critic of boys in blue, thinks it needs to stick around. On Sept. 8, the Reverend called anyone who wants to slash subsidies for swinging badges a “latte liberal.” Sharpton said “people living on the ground need proper policing.”

At the National Action Network’s Commitment March in Washington D.C., Aug. 28, an event I attended as a journalist, speakers used caution in using rhetoric about defunding police lest they remind the Senate and the House of Representatives just a few blocks away - many legislators had left town for recess but anyone in the country could hear the march’s speeches on the news - that they can get away without enacting the core of the HEROES Act, releasing monies to states and municipalities. Much of the movement to reform policing seems to want to stand far off to the side from the progressive wing of the party’s chants to defund - over near Republican territory.

Don’t let the defunding discord disabuse you of the idea that something beneficial is happening. Either both the right and the left, the GOP and the Democrats, want to defund the police or neither of them does.

That is, over the past few weeks, the debate over policing achieved something foreign to us in 2020: consensus. We’re so divided that we can’t even see it. As the record shows, everyone thinks certain cuts in funding would be appropriate but not all. Each party or side’s screaming “You want to defund the police” at the other isn’t a swipe; it’s a starting point, a mutual recognition that something needs to change.

Naturally, each faction wants law enforcement controlled in their own specific ways. The more liberal defunders seek to demilitarize local law enforcement, and the right-leaning ones practically want tiny police departments merged with the Department of Defense.

But that doesn’t mean that meaningful discussion of the issues is impossible now. On the contrary, a skilled moderator could bring about defunding detente if they were allowed to.

I know it’s a frequently used tool of fascists to cite one’s detractors as doing precisely what they’re doing. I’m sure what I see as agreement others will call political doublespeak by doddering candidates.

Right now, though, I choose to see some prospects for progress in what’s happening because the alternative, namely that the folks currently running - and aspiring to run - the country are incompetent liars, makes me part of this disorienting stalemate that’s disguised as an active feud.

The fracas reminds me of an Italian saying: “Gli estremi si toccano.” Translated, it means “the extremes touch.” The farther you run, the closer you stay. When two halves split hard enough, they find each other.

Law and order extremes will overlap each other throughout the remainder of the campaign season and probably beyond. Here’s to hoping they can recognize each other when they do.

Chandra Bozelko writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChandraBozelko and email her at outlawcolumn@gmail.com.