In a turbulent 2020, America’s law enforcement came under increased scrutiny amid a racial reckoning, widespread backlash against the police, and calls for police budget cuts and officer misconduct crackdowns.
Millions of Americans already were dealing with the coronavirus pandemic when George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody triggered nationwide protests for months. The anger put law enforcement officials on the defensive as the issues of race and policing intersected.
Subsequent incidents involving police officers and Black people only inflamed tensions. As protests raged, police officers violently clashed with demonstrators. Some precincts were targeted and set on fire, and accusations of violence were lobbed from both sides.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ‘DEFUND THE POLICE’?
Several cities, activists and lawmakers championed police accountability measures and diverting police resources to fund community programs. Efforts to “defund the police” became a rallying cry for proposed overhauls of police departments.
The term found support among some prominent Democrats while being opposed by the majority of Republicans.
In the city with the country’s largest police force, the New York City Council voted to strip $1 billion from the New York Police Department, a move widely criticized by some and praised by others.
The demands came as crime rates began to surge in multiple cities, and distrust among police and communities of color further eroded. Police unions and some elected officials decried efforts to slash police funding, saying such efforts put the public at risk.
“Defunding the police is perhaps the worst idea in NYC government history,” New York City Councilman Robert Holden, a Democrat, told Fox News in October as shootings and murders spiked following years of relative peace. “We can’t legislate using fashionable slogans that fit on protest signs. It hurts every New Yorker. The NYPD are the gold standard for law enforcement around the world. Any issues that need to be addressed require more training, which costs money.”
In June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed several police transparency measures, including the repeal of 50-a, a provision in the state’s civil rights law that barred public access to officer disciplinary records.
Over the summer, lawmakers in Los Angeles reduced the city’s police budget by $150 million. The LAPD said it would dissolve its sexual assault unit in response to the cuts.
Issues over police misconduct hounded former Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who was unseated last month by George Gascon. A former LAPD assistant police chief, Gascon ran on a progressive platform to hold police officers accountable and to use discretion when prosecuting crimes.
Local activists campaigned against Lacey over her refusal to prosecute several police officers involved in fatal shootings during her two terms in office.
In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan recently signed off on the city’s 2021 budget which included a 20% reduction of the police budget. Months earlier, Police Chief Carmen Best resigned over discussions of sweeping proposals that would have cut about 100 officers.
“I believe 100% that they were putting me in a position destined to fail. Cutting a police department that already had low staffing numbers, that was already struggling to keep up with the demand,” Best said in a September interview with NPR. “How are we going to provide for adequate public safety in that environment?”
In June, as multiple cities faced mass protests, some blocked several streets in Seattle and declared the area a “cop free zone” before it was dismantled weeks later.
Just 180 miles north of Seattle, Portland, Ore., saw nightly protests where demonstrators and law enforcement officers often clashed violently. Top police command staff in Rochester, N.Y., including the chief, were relieved of duty over the police-involved death of Daniel Prude in March.
An Atlanta police officer was charged in connection with the June 12 shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, which sparked more unrest.
Anger boiled over in Louisville, Ky., after three police officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor were not charged criminally in the shooting. One officer, who was terminated, faces charges of wanton endangerment for bullets he fired into the apartment of Taylor’s neighbor during the botched drug raid.
During his presidential campaign, President-elect Joe Biden embraced some calls for police reform, such as a ban on chokeholds and the creation of a national police oversight commission. Instead of supportting efforts to defund the police, he pushed for $300 million in additional police funding, mainly for improved training.
“The demand is still to defund the police,” advocate Andrea Ritchie told Mother Jones. “And it’s gonna get louder and louder. And I don’t know that we even need to be the inside. They’re gonna hear it either way.”
President Trump responded to anger over police use of force on protesters by painting himself as a law and order president, and he routinely showed his support for police. Police unions responded by endorsing him.
“The Radical Left Democrats: First they try to take away your guns,” Trump tweeted in June. “Then they try to take away your police!”
He also accused Biden of being afraid to support law enforcement over fears of losing his “radical supporters.”
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Some Democrats have blamed the “defund the police” slogan in part for losses by party candidates during November’s election.
“That’s how they beat the living hell out of us across the country, saying that we’re talking about defunding the police,” Biden told civil rights leaders during a virtual meeting last week, according to The Intercept. “We’re not. We’re talking about holding them accountable. We’re talking about giving them money to do the right things. We’re talking about putting more psychologists and psychiatrists on the telephones when the 911 call’s through. We’re talking about spending money to enable them to do their jobs better, not with more force, with less force and more understanding.”