House Democratic whip pushes back on calls to defund police: We need to focus on reform

Greg Nash

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African American in Congress, is pushing back against the growing calls to defund police departments around the nation in wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis. 

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Clyburn argued that the “defund the police” slogan championed by activists and some lawmakers should be converted into one that emphasizes “reform.”

“Reform policing in this country. We need to reform policing,” Clyburn said. 

Floyd’s death has ignited calls from protestors for federal, state and local officials to divert funding from police departments to other social services. Chants of “defund the police” have become commonplace at rallies in cities such as Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. 

In Minneapolis on Sunday, nine members of the City Council pledged to dismantle the police department and replace the office with what members have said will be a new model of public safety. 

But Democratic leaders in Congress have largely voiced opposition to those pushes. During a private caucus call on Monday, Clyburn urged lawmakers not to “let yourselves be drawn into the debate about defunding police forces,” Politico reported

“This movement today, some people tried to hijack it,” he said. 

While speaking on NBC Tuesday, Clyburn cited the decision by officials in Camden, N.J., in 2012 to dissolve its police department due to systemic failures. Clyburn said that the case involving Camden was about “defunding a department” and that the city still funded policing in the area. 

“No one defunded policing. They defunded a rotten department, as it should be,” Clyburn added. 

Officials in Camden dismantled its police department seven years ago after concluding that the department needed a wide-scale overhaul to resolve the corruption inside it. The city had one of the worst crime rates in the U.S. at the time. The city implemented “community-oriented policing” and has seen its crime rate drop by about 40 percent since 2012, according to CNN. 

Multiple city leaders, including New York City mayor Bill de Blasio (D), have pledged to shift funding from the police department to other social services in light of protestors’ demands. 

Meanwhile, House Democrats on Monday unveiled sweeping legislation designed to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The bill, which was crafted by the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, would establish a federal ban on chokeholds and eliminate the legal shield protecting police from lawsuits, among other things. 

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