Story at a glance

  • In the first few months of his administration, President Biden has nominated a number of historically progressive candidates to key positions.
  • Kristen Clarke is Biden's nominee to lead the Justice Department's civil rights division.
  • She told lawmakers she did not support defunding the police, an approach that has gained popular support in the last year and been implemented in several cities.

“I do not support defunding the police,” said Kristen Clarke, President Biden's nominee to lead the Justice Department's civil rights division, in her testimony before the United States Congress. “I can assure this committee that if confirmed, I will bring along experience that I have of working to find common ground with law enforcement to this role.”

Clarke’s rejection of protesters’ calls to defund the police came as a relief to some and a disappointment to others. Fewer than 1 in 5 people said they supported defunding the police in a recent poll by USA TODAY and Ipsos, but 43 percent of Americans supported redirecting police funds to social services. 

What’s the difference? In practice — not much, as the call to defund the police is often paired with calls to reallocate both funds and responsibilities from law enforcement to other government services. 


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After the police killing of George Floyd last summer reignited Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality, demands to defund the police began to take hold, with many local lawmakers considering reallocating funds toward community-building efforts. Since then, several cities have successfully adopted and implemented reforms that replace armed police officers with unarmed, trained responders in cases of mental health crises.

But the phrase “defund the police” carries a certain connotation that Clarke distanced herself from, doubling down on her commitment to work with law enforcement as a member of the community herself. 

Clarke would be the first woman and the first woman of color to formally lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division since it was created in 1957 if she is approved by the Senate. It isn't her first time working for the agency, however, where she began her career over two decades before, working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the New York Attorney General's Office. 


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Published on Apr 14, 2021