They’re not the first media outlet to notice this, but every little bit helps. “In Oakland,” the Washington Post notes in its headline, “ideology and practicality collide” in the activist push to defund the police. The body of their report makes it clear that “homicides and violence are spiking” in plenty of other cities as well, and that the activists are suddenly finding that their agenda isn’t selling among the people who are having to live with its consequences:
The push to reshape police departments is occurring in cities across the country, but it is perhaps nowhere more evident than here in Oakland, where veteran activists want to sharply reduce the police budget but much of the broader community is struggling with what that could mean.
In a place that for the past decade has been dedicated to rethinking how it polices its people, the argument for a smaller force and larger social service agencies has gained momentum since George Floyd’s police killing in Minneapolis in May. Floyd’s face and words — “I can’t breathe” — almost instantly became part of Oakland’s much-muraled streetscape.
The nearly immediate calls for cuts of up to half of the police department’s $300 million budget were popular among protesters. But cutting a municipal police force in a large city has proved highly complex at a time when the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic has greatly reduced the amount of public money to go around and crime has spiked.
Ahem. It doesn’t take long before the WaPo recalls that it’s actually a much larger issue in Minneapolis, where the city council wanted to dismantle its police department. After sending signals that the police department would soon disappear, police officers began retiring, taking disability, or just finding other work in record numbers. Crime spiked, thanks to all of the signals of impunity the city council sent out, and their constituents angrily demanded more police resources on the streets. Police-abolition advocate and city council president Lisa Bender demanded to know why Chief Medaria Arradondo wasn’t putting more resources into these neighborhoods, a hypocrisy so blatant that even Bender’s council ally Phillipe Cunningham felt compelled to point it out.
The Post notes how well abolition efforts are playing in the Twin Cities:
Some activists, including residents of the city’s predominantly Black north side, have accused the council of ignoring community sentiment at a time when police have been noticeably less visible and slow to respond to calls.
“They’re playing with people’s lives,” Jamar B. Nelson, a longtime anti-violence activist who was caught up in a mass shooting in the city’s Uptown neighborhood in June, said of the council. “These criminals feel like they can do anything, shoot people in broad daylight, because they aren’t scared of the police stopping them.”
Granted, there are echoes of this in Oakland too among police abolitionists. “Even as an abolitionist, I can say in this moment, and I get in trouble over this with my abolitionist friends,” says activist Cat Brooks, “I don’t know how to deal with pedophiles or rapists or real killers. That’s not my bailiwick.” That has been emblematic of the defund and abolish movements’ response to the question of crime. They offer utopian ideas about cities without police, and then when people ask what to do about crime, the answer is usually some form of “That’s not my bailiwick.”
Small wonder, then, that communities plagued with exploding levels of crime are losing whatever enthusiasm they had for these movements. These communities have plenty of frustration with policing, much of it legitimate, some less so. However, these radical movements want to pretend that police are worse for communities than crime itself, an absurdity that unfortunately has become the 2020 urban experiment for too many people. At some point, that absurdity will hopefully get rejected, and with it the leadership of those promoting it.