Democrats and Republicans alike agree that there’s been a serious spike in violent crime over the last couple of years — the highest in more than a decade. Big cities in America suffered a 33 percent increase in homicides in 2020, and the numbers for the first three months of 2021 are even worse, with 34 cities seeing a 24 percent increase in the homicide rate and a 22 percent rise in gun assaults over 2020’s first quarter.
Biden deserves kudos for standing up to his party’s loud progressive wing and insisting on taking action before more Americans needlessly die.
Given the way President Joe Biden has tilted to the left after campaigning (and winning) as a moderate, it was a relief to see Wednesday that the president’s plan to combat climbing crime pushed back decisively on progressives’ demands to “defund the police.” Let’s hope the White House’s decision to show a backbone on this issue, combined with the many signs that it has a minuscule amount of popular support, means this is one far-left policy prescription that can be relegated to the dustbin.
Biden in his remarks on crime urged states and localities to use the $350 billion granted them in the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package to hire law-enforcement officials — “even above pre-pandemic levels,” the White House said— and generally give police departments more resources. He called the American Rescue Plan “a once-in-a-generation investment to reduce violence in America.”
It’s true that Biden was a bit disingenuous in his diagnosis of the disease, perhaps because he wanted to coat his very unprogressive approach with a veneer of liberal-friendly talking points, such as gun violence and the pandemic, to help it go down more easily.
The White House’s fact sheet on Biden’s crime-fighting plan talks of “gun violence resulting from the pandemic,” “gun violence exacerbated by the pandemic” and “gun violence associated with the pandemic.” In fact, the homicide spike “actually began in 2019, prior to the pandemic,” noted the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice, a bipartisan panel assessing the pandemic’s effect on the justice system.
No one factor is responsible for the rise in violence, even something as staggering as a pandemic. Biden conveniently overlooks many other significant contributors: police officers nervous about taking action that could go viral amid anti-police sentiment, “reform” that’s allowed even violent offenders to walk without bail and progressive prosecutors reluctant to see charges through.
Furthermore, Biden pointed a finger at states and municipalities that have “not only had to fight this pandemic, they’ve also had to deal with economic crisis that has decimated their budgets — forced them to cut essential services, including law enforcement and social services.” But there’s plenty of fat in any government budget, and public safety personnel were hardly the first to go.
Again, Biden is conveniently overlooking another compelling reason for a reduction in policing: The “defund the police” movement gained steam — and got some results — after Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in May 2020.
The Minneapolis City Council, for instance, cut the city’s police budget by nearly $8 million following Floyd’s death. Many municipalities made similar moves, with the New York Police Department seeing an astounding $1 billion budget cut. The sometimes-violent protests that fueled the cuts also led to leaders instructing police to stand down, as vilifying all officers has contributed to an “all-time low” in morale.
Indeed, the president acknowledged that the pandemic’s not the central cause when he presented his plan as crucial to getting ahead of an even bigger rise in crime post-Covid-19. “As we emerge from this pandemic with the country opening back up again, the traditional summer spike may even be more pronounced than it usually would be,” he warned.
Still, Biden deserves kudos for standing up to his party’s loud progressive wing and insisting on taking action before more Americans needlessly die. “This is not a time to turn our backs on law enforcement or our communities,” Biden declared, calling policing “essential.” His words particularly undermined hard-left Democrats’ efforts to sow division between police and civilians: He encouraged Americans to see officers — the vast majority of them, anyway — not as the enemy but as a critical component of public safety and the well-being of our communities.
Though progressives might wail, calling for more funding for police is a smart move politically as well. More Americans believe violent crime is a “very big problem” than think the same about the coronavirus, a recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found. In fact, violent crime was respondents’ top concern, beating the economy and race relations. And it’s a weak spot for the president: Only 36 percent of those surveyed approved of how Biden is handling the issue, while 44 percent disapproved.
America is also very clear that of all the possible ways the commander in chief might choose to address this issue, it doesn’t want police departments defunded. Just 18 percent of those surveyed by USA Today/Ipsos in March supported the defund movement. Despite concerns about policing and racism, only 28 percent of Black people supported the idea.
Even New York City — which under progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio has seen passionate anti-law-enforcement protests following high-profile police-involved killings — is poised to make a former police officer its next mayor. Eric Adams has a nearly 10 percentage-point lead over second-place candidate Maya Wiley in the Democratic primary, and political prognosticators believe he’ll win once absentee ballots are counted and a new ranked-choice voting system calculates the results.
If Eric Adams can win over liberal New York City by demanding more resources for the police, Biden can win over the nation by doing so as well.
New York did worse last year than most other cities: In 2020, Gotham’s murder rate rose 44 percent and shootings spiked a shocking 97 percent. Now things are deteriorating further. The city’s murder rate is up 17.4 percent already over last year’s at this point, and shootings are up a further 73 percent.
Adams, a former NYPD captain who’s now Brooklyn borough president, made public safety his top issue in the campaign, even promising to bring back a form of the plainclothes anti-crime units Police Commissioner Dermot Shea shuttered last year as a move toward “meaningful reform.” This law-and-order campaign resonated with Democratic primary voters, a plurality of whom said “crime or violence” was their top issue.
If Eric Adams can win over liberal New York City by demanding more resources for the police, Biden can win over the nation by doing so as well. More important, his unstated but real denunciation of the defund movement could help change the country’s frightening trajectory, saving lives and communities.