Socialists Who Once Vowed To Defund Police Are Changing Course on City Councils Across the Country

The actions of the local officials contrast sharply with the rhetoric on the topic from progressives such as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman.

AP/Seth Wenig
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a rally April 24, 2022. AP/Seth Wenig

Many socialists and progressives on city councils across the country who pledged to defund the police following the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis have since done an about-face and are consistently voting in favor of budgets that include additional funding for law enforcement.

The latest example was in New York City this week, when four socialists and progressives on the city council broke such a pledge and voted for a fiscal year 2023 budget that included a $90 million increase for the New York Police Department’s annual allocation. 

In the pledge signed by the four socialists before they were elected, they promised to vote against any budget that did not divert city funds from the police department and steer it to housing and education programs. The four council members who broke the pledge were Carmen De La Rosa, Julie Won, Shahana Hanif, and Rita Joseph. 

The actions of the local officials contrast sharply with the rhetoric on the topic from progressives such as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, who have national platforms in Washington.

After the New York City budget was approved, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a former member of Democratic Socialists of America and now a member of New York’s congressional delegation, said the possibility “that perhaps abandoning youth employment, school funding, housing & community violence interruption to boost already-huge police budgets makes us less safe.” 

Mr. Bowman, another alum of New York’s social democrats now in Congress, echoed her sentiments, saying, “If we truly care about public safety, we must fully fund our public schools.” 

The diverging messages are being played out on city councils across the country. Local officials endorsed by the socialists have been consistently voting to increase funding for police forces since 2020 despite earlier promises not to do so. 

In Los Angeles, a council and Democratic Socialists of America member, Nithya Raman, said in 2020 after Floyd’s killing that it was “time to divest from policing that has fallen unfairly on communities of color.” 

In 2021 and again in May 2022, though, Ms. Raman voted to increase funding for the Los Angeles Police Department, a vote for which she later expressed remorse.

“Ultimately I should have voted no,” she wrote on Twitter. “The irony is not lost on me that I did this the day after the [Los Angeles Unified School District] voted to cut their police budget by a third.”

The divergence in messaging is also seen in Philadelphia and San Diego. In Philadelphia, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working People’s Party who is on the city council, Kendra Brooks, joined in a unanimous approval of the city’s fiscal 2022 budget increasing police spending. 

In San Diego, a Democratic Socialists of America member of the city council, Monica Montgomery, also voted to increase funding for the police — to the tune of $37 million over the last two years. 

Research by the Economist magazine confirmed the trend of increasing police budgets around the country. “The slogan is now defunct,” the Economist wrote of “Defund the Police.” “Many police departments that lost funding saw their budgets as a share of overall spending rise slightly in 2021.”

Asked by the Sun if the socialists who voted for the budget should be kicked out of the New York City social chapter, a former Democratic Socialists of America council candidate, Hailie Kim, said, “For any primary challenger to win against an incumbent, the anger at this budget cannot last just a day. I believe there will be less trust from political circles.” 

The New York city council member, Mrs. Hanif, a self-described democratic socialist, voted in favor of the budget increase for police but laid the blame for her vote at the feet of Mayor Adams. 

“Let me be clear, the primary responsibility of these budget cuts lies at the feet of the mayor,” Mrs. Hanif said. “This budget was a notable win for our council. We were able to fight against the mayor’s cuts across the board.”

The New York Sun

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