- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Two of the women vying for the vice presidential spot on the Democratic ticket are taking bigger risks in embracing aspects of the “defund the police” movement than the presumptive nominee, Joseph R. Biden, further complicating his decision.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California and Rep. Val Demings of Florida haven’t completely shut down activists’ calls to gut law enforcement.

Most of the other women up for the No. 2 spot have remained silent on the issue — most notably, failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who has made civil rights her key issue.

Ms. Harris, who served as attorney general of California and a prosecutor for several years, gained notoriety during her own bid for the party’s presidential nomination by challenging Mr. Biden on race relations, specifically busing.

Now Ms. Harris has come out strongly in support of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s announcement that he is cutting $150 million from his city’s police budget. The move comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom deployed the National Guard to curtail violence and looting in Los Angeles.

“I support investing in communities so that they become more healthy and therefore more safe. Right now, what we are seeing in America is many cities spend over one-third of their entire city budget on policing, but meanwhile, we have been defunding public schools for years in America. We have to reexamine what we are doing with American taxpayer dollars and ask the question, ‘Are we getting the right return on our investment?’” Ms. Harris said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

She noted that calls to defund police departments, though, should not be seen as proposals to do away with law enforcement altogether, a characterization she suggests is misleading.

Like Ms. Harris, Ms. Demings, who has served as police chief of Orlando, Florida, appeared somewhat open to defunding. She said the move to dismantle Minneapolis’ police department was “thoughtful.”

Most key Democrats, though, have kept the “defund the police” movement at arm’s length, including Mr. Biden, who advocates a broader reexamination of how money is spent.

Congressional Democrats also introduced a bill for a major overhaul of policing, including setting national standards for use of force.

But the defund movement continues to pick up steam on the political left in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis City Council is poised to approve a plan to dismantle the police department.

Far-left superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York also called for the New York Police Department to be defunded.

Mr. Biden won’t go that far and instead is opting to condition federal aid on certain standards of policing.

“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” Mr. Biden told CBS News. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate that they can protect the community and everybody in the community.”

On Tuesday, he took a unifying tone while speaking through a video message to those gathered at Mr. Floyd’s funeral in Houston. Mr. Biden told mourners that the grief they feel will turn into purpose and called for unity against racism and injustice.

The Republican National Committee and President Trump have jumped on Democrats’ calls to defund law enforcement, making it an election issue. They say defunding police departments are essentially an attempt to do away with them.

“Democrats have made clear they want to eliminate law and order and let chaos reign,” said Steve Guest, a spokesman for the RNC.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who was one of the longest-lasting female Democratic presidential primary candidates this year, has taken heat for her role as a county prosecutor in Minnesota after some reports emerged suggesting she didn’t prosecute Derek Chauvin, the white officer accused of killing Floyd, in a legal dispute.

She pushed back on those allegations, saying she had already been elected to the Senate when a case involving Mr. Chauvin was being investigated.

“This idea that I had somehow declined a case … against this officer is absolutely false. It is a lie,” Ms. Klobuchar recently told MSNBC. “The case was investigated, that investigation continued into a time where I was already sworn in to the U.S. Senate.”

Ms. Klobuchar didn’t comment to The Washington Times on the police movement, but Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, said her history as a prosecutor has dampened her chances for making it as Mr. Biden’s running mate.

“The current environment has made me doubt the temperature … for Amy Klobuchar and changed the temperature of the conversation about her potential,” he said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has entered the debate as a viable option for Mr. Biden after she made news during riots in her city by being one of the first local leaders to implement an early curfew to curtail looting and unrest.

She hasn’t commented on the defunding movement, but she is looking at recommendations for changes to law enforcement policies on the use of force. Two police officers in Atlanta were fired last month for violently pulling people out of a car.

Georgia’s Ms. Abrams and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who have both long been considered favorites for the vice presidential slot, also did not return requests for comment from The Washington Times on the “defund the police” movement.

It’s unusual for Ms. Abrams, who became the first black woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union address last year, to be mum on the movement because she has made civil rights and criminal justice reform key parts of her agenda.

Two other female governors, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham, have also been quiet on defunding police departments, though both have announced law enforcement policy changes in their states.

Ms. Lujan Grisham is planning to appoint a racial justice czar to conduct oversight of law enforcement across New Mexico, and Ms. Whitmer is focused on increasing police training. She backs a push for officers to complete implicit bias training and techniques for de-escalation.

“Here in Michigan, we are taking action and working together to address the inequities Black Michiganders face every day. That’s why I’m calling on Michigan police departments to strengthen their training and policies to save lives and keep people safe. I am also ready to partner with the Michigan Legislature and law enforcement officials to pass police reform bills into law,” Ms. Whitmer said in a press release last week.

Mr. Seawright said Mr. Biden needs to pick a black woman as a running mate to target a key voting bloc of the Democratic Party instead of worrying about tapping someone from a Midwestern swing state such as Ms. Klobuchar or Ms. Whitmer.

“Even if you make the geographical argument, even in those places, you have to turn out black voters,” he said.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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