On Wednesday, amid riots following the horrific police killing of George Floyd, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said that police “become the enemy” when they use surplus military equipment. He also supported some version of the Black Lives Matter push to “defund the police.”
“Surplus military equipment for law enforcement. They don’t need that,” Biden said in an interview with activist Ady Barkan, who is dying from ALS. “The last thing you need is an up-armored Humvee coming into a neighborhood, it’s like the military invading.”
“They don’t know anybody. They become the enemy,” Biden added. “They’re supposed to be protecting these people.”
The presumptive nominee also supported a version of defunding the police. Barkan suggested the Black Lives Matter movement aims to “reduce interactions civilians have with the police” by redirecting money from law enforcement to mental health and other services.
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“Yes, I propose that kind of reform,” Biden replied. “We need significantly more help, more funding for mental health clinics and mental health providers.”
He called for various reforms to policing, including a federal database to monitor bad actors so they cannot move from one police station to another. (This kind of proposal features in both the Republican and Democratic police reform bills in Congress right now.) “The federal government is right to go in and change systemically what’s going on,” he said.
Biden also insisted that “the idea of no-knock warrants for drug cases is bizarre. We don’t need that. It just invites trouble.” He mentioned the horrific police shooting of Breonna Taylor, who was killed after her boyfriend opened fire in what he suspected was a home invasion. Police carried out a plainclothes no-knock raid because Taylor had been tangentially related to a drug case.
While many of the Democrat’s reforms deserve consideration, his push for defunding the police is radical and dangerous. His decision to brand police “the enemy,” even in a limited context, seems ill-advised at a time when violent riots in the name of fighting police shootings have led to the deaths of at least 21 people, most of them black. Retired police chief David Dorn was killed by looters breaking into his pawnshop in St. Louis. Antonio Mays Jr., a 16-year-old boy, was shot and killed outside the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) in Seattle. Secoriea Taylor — an 8-year-old girl — was fatally shot as her mother attempted to park a car near a group of protesters close to the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks had been killed by police.
Police reform is important, but now is not the time to describe police as “the enemy.”
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.