As Black Lives Matter efforts persist, prominent black voices push back on anti-police politics

'I think we need more police,' Trayvon Martin's mother argues

Published: June 20, 2020 5:29pm

Updated: June 22, 2020 6:31pm

As Black Lives Matter protest efforts continue across the United States, numerous prominent black voices have pushed back against the movement's emerging demands to defund or even dismantle police departments across America. 

Protests against police have raged across America's cities since the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police was captured on video in which a police officer knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd screamed, "I can't breathe!" In the weeks since the incident, the country has witnessed mass demonstrations, destruction of statues deemed historically offensive, and sometimes violence against police officers.

In recent weeks a new slogan — "defund the police" — has sprung up among activists. Black Lives Matter has made the issue front-and-center on its own website.

While the drive to defund the police has quickly caught on among liberal-leaning activists and demonstrators, a number of prominent black leaders and advocates have spoken up in recent days, urging a more measured, thoughtful approach to regulating police forces around the country. 

'Nobody is going to defund the police' 

Democratic Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Majority Whip, said last week that the demands to strip police departments of their funding would come to nothing. 

"Nobody is going to defund the police," Clyburn told CNN. "We can restructure the police forces. Restructure, re-imagine policing. That is what we are going to do."

Clyburn is not beyond criticizing the police: He spoke sharply of police behavior in the death of Atlanta resident Rayshard Brooks, who was shot and killed by an officer after pointing the officer's Taser at him. "I was very incensed over that," he told CNN. "This did not call for lethal force."

But "the fact of the matter is that police have a role to play," he said. "What we've got to do is make sure that their role is one that meets the times, one that responds to these communities that they operate in.

Erroll Southers, a former FBI Special Agent and counterterrorism expert who teaches homeland security at the University of Southern California, wrote in a USA Today op-ed that "removing federal, state and/or local funding from law enforcement will not achieve the change we want. In fact, it could make things worse."

Despite having witnessed "firsthand police abuses and brutality" during the civil rights era, Southers writes that he has also seen "the positive impact police programs and outreach have in supporting safe, strong communities."

Cutting police budgets, Southers writes, could very well bring an end to those outreach programs. 

"As angry as we are at the systemic problems in American law enforcement, we must be careful to preserve what is good in the profession while rooting out all that is bad," he says.

'We need ... better ethics and better work habits.'

Sybrina Fulton also disagrees with the new demands to strip police of funding. Fulton is the mother of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teenager who was shot and killed by Florida resident George Zimmerman in 2012. Martin's killing set off a nationwide flurry of activism similar to, though nowhere near as intense as, that touched off by the death of Floyd. 

Fulton, who is running for district county commissioner in Miami-Dade County, said earlier this month that the country needs "more police." 

“We need police with better standards, and police with better ethics and better work habits," she said, adding that she "want[s] to bridge the gap between the law enforcement and the community."

Injecting a note of biting humor into the debate, meanwhile, former Dallas Cowboys running back Herschel Walker said this week that those who want to defund police departments should travel to places that don't have any law enforcement at all.

"For all these people who don’t want any police, I’d love to meet with American Airlines, Delta, and Southwest and make a deal to fly them to countries that don’t have police," Walker tweeted. 

Former New York Giants safety Jack Brewer also criticized the new anti-police frenzy sweeping the country. 

"It’s sad to see that," he told Fox News earlier this month, "because you look back at all the great things that law enforcement has done for our country, and we can’t take a few instances and just blame all law enforcement across the board."

While criticizing what he said were police department practices of "giving kids so many offenses and putting arrest records on them so early," Brewer said that those issues can be addressed "without ending police departments."

"I just think the rhetoric has gone too far," he said. 

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