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Americans don’t want to defund the police

Defunding the police means no police

Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, protesters across the United States have said they want to ‘defund the police’. I thought this was pretty – even admirably – clear as aims go. Of course, it does mean no police unless you are going to rely on volunteers. Indeed, an editorial in the New York Times confirms this:

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This has been supported, in Minneapolis specifically, by local Rep. Ilhan Omar:

Defunding the police isn’t popular except with liberals

As I wrote last week, there is a strong argument for substantial police reform. A poll for the Huffington Post finds that most Americans agree, but that 57% oppose defunding the police (a poll for ABC News echoed this):

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The break down of opposition to defunding is particularly interesting. Most Democrats oppose it (not by much though) and most blacks oppose it; the only group that registers support is ‘Self-described liberal’:

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The businesses community in Minneapolis also disagrees with Rep. Omar. The Star Tribune reports:

Jonathan Weinhagen, president & CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, said the group’s members believe the city must reach out to “communities of color” and deliver “significant reform” to the department. After years of complaints, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights recently launched an investigation of the police department to determine if its officers have engaged in discriminatory practices toward people of color.

“We stand with Chief [Medaria] Arradondo and his efforts to hold officers accountable and dramatically overhaul policing in Minneapolis,” Weinhagen said in a statement. “Businesses are concerned about calls for abolishing or eliminating the police department. We believe it is important to maintain and improve public safety. And the necessary changes for the MPD will take consensus from the community and continual work from leaders across Minneapolis.”

“I was already kind of fed up with a lot of the lunatic ideas that have come out of the City Council, even before this,” said Don Blyly, who is facing $2 million in losses from the destruction of Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s bookstores on Chicago Avenue. “The police department needs to be fixed. But if they do the kind of things they are talking about now, then I will not rebuild in the city of Minneapolis.”

The council’s lack of specifics is infuriating to many business owners, some of whom accused the council of pandering to the mob.

“They are just looking to please some people,” said Khaled Aloul, owner of two GM Tobacco stores that were heavily damaged during the riots. “We don’t even know what it means: dismantle the police department.”

“How do you know the new thing is going to be better?” he asked. “Can you imagine a town without police? Look at what happened when the police didn’t come. The whole area is a disaster. It looks like we had a civil war here.”

Calling for defunding of the police distracts from sensible police reform

As I wrote last week, calls for extremist policies like getting rid of the police actually hurt the cause of sensible police reform. The Huffington Post poll found that, after banning chokeholds, defunding the police was the second most widely known police reform policy. Extremists are drowning out the rest of us.

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Calm down, libertarians

At the top of this post I said that defunding the police “does mean no police unless you are going to rely on volunteers”. Lots of libertarians would see that as a good outcome, though I wonder how many would volunteer to get involved in an incident like the shooting of six people at a Minneapolis bar in the early hours of Sunday.

It is true that, during the riots, we saw Americans engaging in the great and noble American tradition of armed self-defense. But libertarians shouldn’t get too excited. When Minneapolis city council talks about a “new transformative model for cultivating safety”, you can be pretty certain that they aren’t thinking of a city full of Bernhard Goetz‘. What they want is a city both without police and without arms in the hands of the public. A recipe for disaster to most of us, but apparently it won’t be a problem if we implement socialism. Or something.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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