The country experienced a record homicide spike in 2020, with cities like New York and Los Angeles reporting historic year-over-year surges — still well below the record murder rates of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but enough to stoke fears nationwide. Political support for defunding law enforcement has withered in many places, the gains earned during the summer 2020 protests flagging as people worry cities cannot fight surging crime without police.
New York City voters picked Eric Adams, a former police officer and defund critic, in the Democratic mayoral primary in June, while the new president of the Los Angeles civilian oversight panel is an outspoken critic of the defund movement. Supporters in both cities are frustrated by the lack of sustained political support from government institutions, as across the country, defunders are still voicing their demands through demonstrations.
In Baltimore, defund proponents are embracing a longer play. Over a decade of activism focused on the city’s notorious police force, they’ve learned that effecting lasting change isn’t as simple as a single summer of outrage. Instead, they are pushing for gradual movement on the city budget and the slow toil of working through bureaucracy. These advocates hope to convince both their neighbors and their political representatives that the bold choice is the one that will keep them all safer.
But with the death toll of the city’s gun violence rising, residents in neighborhoods on the front lines of violence are caught between a police department with a record of abuse and the fear that even a marginal cut to funding will lead to chaos and even more violence. Defund leaves people with so many unknowns, making it a tough sell. That’s why [Ray] Kelly, the local face of police reform activism, fussed with those speakers, trying to put people at ease with music before broaching the fraught subject.
— J. Brian Charles in Baltimore Still Thinks It Can Defund the Police