Donald Trump and his allies have seized on calls to “defund the police” as a dangerous example of Democratic overreach as the US president fights crises that threaten his re-election.
Prominent Democrats, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, are distancing themselves from the “defund” push, which some supporters say is a symbolic commitment to end systemic racism and change policing priorities rather than an actual plan to eliminate police forces.
But confusion over the proposal’s intent has created an opportunity for Mr Trump, who has struggled to navigate the delicate debate over racial justice, risking support from people of colour, suburban women and independents less than five months before election day. Facing increasing pressure to weigh in, Mr Biden addressed the issue on Monday in an interview with CBS Evening News.
“I don’t support defunding the police. I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency, honourableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community, everybody in the community,” Mr Biden said.
Other Democratic opponents of the movement include Senator Cory Booker, a former presidential candidate and one of two black Democratic senators, and Representative Karen Bass, head of the Congressional Black Caucus.
National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) president Derrick Johnson, in an interview, also declined to endorse calls to defund the police.
“I support the energy behind it. I don’t know what that substantively means. As I’m talking to people about the concept, I’ve gotten three different explanations,” said Mr Johnson, who has criticised Mr Trump. “We know there has to be a change in the culture of policing in this country.”
Democrats are well-positioned to win over the political centre this autumn, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who said Mr Trump’s uneven actions and rhetoric at a time of sweeping social unrest were “killing him”.
Mr Luntz added, however, that Democrats risked their advantage by embracing policies viewed as radical following the death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.