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Pelosi's 'defund the police' dismissal is insulting — and it hurts her legacy

The House speaker said the progressive rallying cry — a proposal to redirect money from police to other social programs — is "dead."


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took aim at the progressive rhetoric around policing Sunday, reiterating that a call to defund the police, a stance seeking a reduction in law enforcement budgets, is “dead” and “not the position of the Democratic Party.” 

It’s a sign of the divergent views among Democrats regarding how policing should be conducted going forward, after Democrats prioritized police reform in the run-up to the 2020 election. Pelosi made the remarks to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in response to a question about Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who last week rebutted calls from fellow Democrats telling her she should stop using the phrase. 

“Community safety — to protect and defend in every way — is our oath of office,” Pelosi said, adding: "We’re all concerned about mistreatment of people.”

Though she said House Democrats hope to pass a bill that includes restrictions on no-knock warrants or chokeholds (“some of those issues, even if we can’t get it all done”), she insisted the push to defund the police is “dead.”

Those remarks are unlikely to deter activists and lawmakers who have been resolute about curbing large police budgets. Moreover, it behooves Democrats like Pelosi to speak more soberly about the inability to pass a sweeping police reform bill, rather than critique attempts to do so. When the speaker makes a passing reference to a world in which Democrats “can’t get it all done” with regard to police reform, she’s referring to a world that will continue to tacitly endorse at least some measure of police violence. 

And we know how fatal that violence can be.

“I always tell [fellow Democrats], ‘If you all had fixed this before I got here, I wouldn’t have to say these things,’” Bush told Axios last week.  She acknowledged Democrats need to explain what exactly it means to defund the police, but she blamed people in her party for failing to pass meaningful legislation despite previous promises. 

“‘Defund the police’ is not the problem,” she said. “We dangled the carrot in front of people’s faces and said we can get it done and that Democrats deliver, when we haven’t totally delivered.”

Democrats presented an ambitious police reform agenda as one reason for voters to elect them in 2020, and that agenda included plans to "reorient our public safety approach toward prevention, and away from overpolicing.” Moving away from overpolicing, it would seem, requires a level of disinvestment. 

It’s on Pelosi and her fellow Democrats to defend that disinvestment in overpolicing — not run from it when that position seems politically inconvenient.