by Wade Rathke
March 8, 2021
New Orleans In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, we heard from a former mayor and activist in the area. He wanted to do something, almost anything, as he watched television and witnessed the demonstrations. He was horrified by the police tactics. Groping to respond, he went to the modern default and created a Facebook site of protest. The purpose was to raise up opposition to police use of tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. Having some political experience, but not extensive campaign experience, he reached out to ACORN as a place for help and advice.
The Facebook site had grown steadily in the spring, and he was optimistic that the support had no ceiling. We had several calls. We argued that the campaign needed to focus on specific local cities where it might be able to achieve policy success. I interviewed him on Wade’s World. He canceled a call for a family emergency in the fall. Then he disappeared, not responding to emails trying to reschedule. The “likes” had capped out near the time of our last call at about 24,000, which was not insignificant, but also not growing. The last post on the site was in the week after the January 6 riot at the Capitol, almost two months ago.
Has the sand shifted on police accountability that rose in anger over Floyd, but also saw a wave of sympathy as Americans viewed the police being overrun at the Capitol? The jury is now being selected in the trial of the first policeman accused in the Floyd murder. A white policeman has never been found guilty in Minneapolis, according to local activists and reporters.
The polarization of the slogan “defund the police” doesn’t explain the situation adequately. Statistics reported from Bloomberg City Lab tally up the score on results in that area:
Even as the 50 largest U.S. cities reduced their 2021 police budgets by 5.2 percent in aggregate — often as part of broader pandemic cost-cutting initiatives — law enforcement spending as a share of general expenditures rose slightly to 13.7 percent from 13.6 percent.
Some argue that these questions have been caught up in the increasingly polarized reaction to Black Lives Matter, as Republicans have solidified their opposition and general support among whites has dropped. There’s no question that race and racism make many uncomfortable, but the priority of addressing this systemic issue is still different than the question of acceptable police tactics in providing safety and security to all Americans.
There’s no question that in our neighborhoods, among our African-American membership, the call for more police protection has continued to increase. At the same time, they want more, they also want better and don’t support abuse and unrestrained, militarized tactical response.
I’m not sure that the tide has changed around police tactics, but it is clear that people are confused right now. The specter of domestic terrorism seen in the Capitol riot and now in constant FBI alerts, has the public unsure of how to meet these threats and fearful, including in cities, large and small. They want police to be accountable and restrained, but they also want to be safe and can’t find the middle ground that achieves both objectives.
We all need to buy a clue to solve this puzzle. There’s no quick fix now.