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Joe Biden Does Not Want to Defund the Police, Spokesman Says

2020-06-08 22:19:01

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “does not believe that police should be defunded,” a spokesman for his campaign said Monday, weighing in on a call from protesters and activists that has gathered steam as protests against police brutality and systemic racism have grown.

The spokesman, Andrew Bates, said in a statement that Mr. Biden “hears and shares the deep grief and frustration of those calling out for change” and “supports the urgent need for reform.” But Mr. Bates emphasized that Mr. Biden believes providing funding is necessary to help improve policing, including by supporting “community policing programs that improve relationships between officers and residents.”

“This funding would also go towards diversifying police departments so that they resemble the communities in which they serve,” Mr. Bates said. “We also need additional funding for body-worn cameras.”

The Biden campaign released the statement as “defund the police” has emerged as a rallying cry following the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., both of whom were black. Mr. Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Ms. Taylor was shot dead by officers who entered her home during a raid.

Mr. Biden traveled to Houston on Monday to meet with Mr. Floyd’s family, and he is expected to record a video message for Mr. Floyd’s funeral, which will take place on Tuesday.

“Listening to one another is what will begin to heal America. That’s just what VP @JoeBiden did with the family of #GeorgeFloyd — for more than an hour,” Benjamin Crump, the lawyer working with Mr. Floyd’s family, tweeted after the meeting. “He listened, heard their pain, and shared in their woe. That compassion meant the world to this grieving family.”

The campaign on Monday pointed to a criminal justice plan that Mr. Biden released last year, which promised $300 million for the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program, or COPS.

More recently, Mr. Biden has called for “real police reform” and urged Congress to pass a series of measures, including ones that would outlaw chokeholds by the police, stop the transfer of military weapons to police departments and create a model standard for the use of force. He also pledged to create a national police oversight commission in his first 100 days in office.

Calls for a wholesale dismantling of local police departments are a long way from becoming Democratic Party orthodoxy. Even in the progressive movement, leading presidential candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts focused their criminal justice platforms on reactive measures such as eliminating cash bail and significantly decreasing the incarcerated population.

Since the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013, a wave of more progressive district attorneys have been elected in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Ferguson, Mo. Even those officials — who are often at odds with their local police departments — have not embraced a police-free future, most likely because few elected officials know what one would look like at this time.

But activists have still asked Democratic lawmakers to make clear that they understand the problems with policing go beyond the need for body cameras or sensitivity training, and some have begun to respond.

Senator Kamala Harris of California, a former district attorney and state attorney general who is seen as a possible running mate for Mr. Biden, said on Monday that public safety needed to be reimagined.

“To have cities where one-third of their entire budget is going to policing, yet there is a dire need in those same cities for mental health resources, for resources going into public schools, resources going into job creation — come on, we have to be honest about this,” she said on ABC’s “The View.”

She did not call for eliminating all police officers.

President Trump’s re-election campaign had sought to focus attention on how Mr. Biden was responding — or not responding — to calls to defund police departments. Trump officials and surrogates on Monday held a conference call with reporters in which they argued that his silence on the call to defund the police was an implicit endorsement of it.

It was their latest attempt to tie Mr. Biden to the most progressive wing of his party, and to portray the Democratic Party as soft on crime.

“Where has Joe Biden been?” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, said shortly before the Biden campaign released its statement. “By his silence, he is endorsing chaos and anarchy and lawlessness.”

After Mr. Biden released his statement through Mr. Bates, Mr. Murtaugh pressed the former vice president to comment himself.

“Joe Biden is the leader of his party and he could single-handedly step in and steer elected Democrats away from this terrible policy, which invites chaos in American communities, but he has remained secluded in his basement saying nothing,” Mr. Murtaugh said in a statement. “The ‘defund the police’ train has already left the Democrat station, and Joe Biden is merely a weak passenger.”

Katie Glueck, Astead W. Herndon and Annie Karni contributed reporting.


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