‘Defund the police’ slogan and anti-police violence debated at U.S. Senate hearing
Republicans on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and law enforcement witnesses at a Tuesday hearing blamed recent violence against officers on anti-police rhetoric, while Democrats distanced themselves from the “defund the police” slogan and said an oversupply of guns made law enforcement jobs more dangerous.
Republicans on the panel raised complaints about general attitudes toward police, and members of both parties criticized progressive activists’ calls to “defund the police,” which peaked after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May 2020.
The panel’s ranking Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, requested the hearing. He said 73 police officers were intentionally killed last year, the most since 2001.
“A main cause of this violence against police is the demonization and the disrespect shown to the profession of law enforcement throughout the country,” Grassley said. “When you allow hatred of a group to spread, it makes it easy to justify violent attacks against law enforcement.”
Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, pointed out the committee had approved five bills this year to increase federal funding for local departments. President Joe Biden last week called for even more federal funding, Durbin said.
Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Congress should also focus on decreasing access to guns.
“There are some on the other side who falsely accuse Democrats [of] wanting to defund the police,” Durbin said in an opening statement. “The record is clear: We are funding the police, and we should. But our work cannot end there. We cannot ignore the dominant role of guns in assaults and killings of police officers.”
George Floyd killing
Republicans on the panel and some witnesses focused on the movement to “defund the police” in the aftermath of the killing of Floyd, a Black man, by a white officer. The term has been interpreted across the political spectrum to mean everything from reforming police departments to abolishing them.
Sgt. Demetrick “Tre” Pennie, the president and executive officer of the National Fallen Officer Foundation, told the panel that “coordinated efforts” to “undermine our police” were responsible for a rise in police deaths.
“As calls to defund the police got louder, more police officers died,” he said Tuesday
Pennie traced a rising anti-police attitude to the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after a white police officer there killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man.
With a few exceptions in the U.S. House, congressional Democrats have rejected the defund-the-police label, and polls show the concept finds disapproval among most Americans.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who was the lead prosecutor in the state’s largest county before joining the Senate, said policing practices should be reformed, but not eliminated.
“One of the focuses has got to be … reforming some of the practices, but at the same time funding the police,” she said.