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Legislatively Speaking

State Bill Seeks to Punish Those That Defund Police

Lena C. Taylor

This week, there is an ongoing jury selection in the case of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. You may remember that Chauvin was recorded kneeling on the neck of George Floyd. For what seemed like an eternity, millions watched in horror as Floyd gasped for air and begged for his life. Posing no threat to the officers on the scene, millions of viewers remain vexed about the callous disregard for life displayed by the officers involved. The audio of him calling out for his deceased mother has been seared into my brain. Like others, I wept in empathy, anger and frustration at how George Floyd was killed at the hands of police.

COVID-19 created the perfect storm for the video to be seen, both domestically and around the world. Safer at Home Orders were in place. Social media and the nightly news had a captive audience. There was nowhere to go. There were no jobs, or daycare, or daily activities to jockey for our time. We all saw it and most of us couldn’t look away. We couldn’t rationalize it in the usual way we do when a Black life is lost at the hands of police. There was no justification or explanation that would suffice.

Protestors took to the streets, nationally and internationally, to demand reforms in policing. They sounded a clarion call for action. While many ideas were proposed, a frequent phrase emerged. DEFUND THE POLICE. As we know by now, that axiom meant different things to different people. For some it literally was a call for local municipalities to do away with their police departments as we know them and start from scratch. Policing has a deep-rooted history in slavery and race. Systemic racism and inequity have long been complaints that have dogged the field.

Others proposed a reallocation of municipal budgets. Public Safety expenditures compromise roughly 50% of the City of Milwaukee’s budget. Critical services that could help reduce the need for police are underfunded or non-existent, as budget priorities. The view was to divert dollars to increased social service programs that get at social determinants of crime. The same phrase was used but the approach was different. Somewhere it all got lost in the translation. Out of fear, frustration and anger, an effort emerged to penalize cities and local municipalities that would consider taking any funds from police budgets.

From Iowa to Wisconsin, bills were drafted to stop defunding efforts. In the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety this week, we heard Senate Bill 119. The bill proposes decreasing shared revenue payments to municipalities based on decreased funding for law enforcement officers. There are a number of provisions, but the bottom line, if a city cuts their police budget the state would send less money to that city.

The bill is an overreaction. It removes local control and is unrealistic about the needs to be agile in the budget process. No department or agency’s funding should be guaranteed at all costs. At least, that’s the way I see it. I guess the folks in the Iowa State Senate saw it differently. Their bill to penalize efforts to defund the police passed out of committee. The effort started with a congressional bill, H.R.7632 – Defund Cities that Defund the Police Act of 2020, last year. Keep your eye on this national policy fight.

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