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The ‘Defund’ Conundrum

2020-06-09 10:39:47

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Advocates for police reform are making the case that the phrase “defund the police” doesn’t mean what many people think it means. “Be not afraid,” Christy E. Lopez, a Georgetown University law professor, wrote in The Washington Post. “‘Defunding the police’ is not as scary (or even as radical) as it sounds.”

What it actually means, these advocates say, is reducing police budgets and no longer asking officers to do many jobs that they often don’t even want to do: resolving family and school disputes, moving homeless people into shelters and so on. Instead, funding for education, health care and other social services would increase. (For more detail on the movement’s agenda, you can read this Times explainer.)

The challenge for advocates is that many people equate “defunding” with a major reduction in policing — and they don’t like that idea. Reducing police budgets is arguably the only high-profile reform idea that’s not popular:

This situation reminds me of several other political issues in the Trump era, like health care and immigration. On all of them, progressives are pushing for multiple policy changes that are popular with voters (like expanded Medicare, the end of migrant-family separation and more police accountability). These changes are typically much more popular than President Trump’s positions on the same issues.

But many progressives have also adopted one big idea in each area that is decidedly unpopular with voters: Get rid of private health insurance. Abolish ICE. Defund the police.

The combination explains much of the political response you’ve seen in recent days. Joe Biden, Cory Booker and other Democrats have distanced themselves from the phrase “defund the police,” while Trump has highlighted it. “They’re saying defund the police,” he said last week. “Defund. Think of it.”

At the same time, some Republicans have begun signaling their openness to other parts of police reform, which is a big change. John Cornyn, a conservative senator facing a tough re-election campaign in Texas, yesterday tweeted the following: “I’m dedicated to rooting out racial injustices so no other family has to experience what George Floyd’s family has. It will require bipartisan commitment across the country & listening to the voices of those who have been most affected is the first step — we must not fail to act.”

A shift: A majority of Americans (57 percent) now believe the police are more likely to use excessive force against African-Americans. In 2014, the share was only 33 percent. “In my 35 years of polling, I’ve never seen opinion shift this fast or deeply,” Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, said.

Polls have also been shifting on Trump in recent weeks and show him to have fallen about 10 percentage points behind Biden. Why? Partly because some white working-class voters have soured — at least for now — on the president, according to Nate Cohn, a Times polling expert. Trump’s lead among white voters is down to around five percentage points, compared with his 13-point margin among whites in 2016.

“Incumbent presidents usually have an advantage in seeking re-election and that makes his deficit all the more striking,” Nate says. Past candidates have made up big deficits from the summer before the election, but the last incumbent to mount such a comeback was Harry Truman in 1948.

By now, many of the key rules for reducing your coronavirus risk are familiar: Wash your hands frequently when you leave the house. Wear a mask. Avoid close conversations. Minimize your time in indoor spaces.

But there’s one rule that probably deserves more attention: Adjust your behavior based on where you live. Virus rates vary significantly by state.

Our colleague Tara Parker-Pope has published a list of five rules to live by during a pandemic. Rule No. 1 is “Check the health of your state and community.”

In other virus developments:

  • The S&P 500 has recovered all of its losses on the year. But stocks opened down in Europe this morning, suggesting American markets may fall as well.

  • Reports of child abuse in New York City have dropped sharply since the pandemic began, which could be a sign that the system to protect children has fallen apart.

  • Adam Rapoport, the editor of Bon Appétit magazine, resigned after a 2004 photo of him resurfaced on social media, drawing condemnations for a stereotypical depiction of Puerto Ricans.

  • Lives lived: He was known as Brother Ah (born Robert Northern), a master French horn player (and Washington D.J.) who hopscotched between jazz and classical music before embarking on a solo career making music that defied categorization. He has died at 86.

Christina Goldbaum, a Metro reporter, reflected on New York City’s first day of eased restrictions:

On Monday morning, New York seemed to be slowly waking up from its 100-day hibernation. The streets were still absent the usual crowds and cacophony of car horns. But the return of around 400,000 people to some urban routines offered some sense of normalcy.

Commuters wearing face masks hopped onto freshly scrubbed trains that smelled like lemon-scented cleaning supplies. Even the more crowded train cars still carried only a dozen or so riders.

By midday, local shops had unlocked their doors for curbside pickup. In the East Village, a half-dozen construction workers who had been home for months chatted and laughed as they lined up to have their temperatures checked.

Other parts of the city remained at a standstill: In SoHo and on Fifth Avenue, where many stores were looted last week, marquee shops were still boarded up. But graffiti on the plywood offered encouragement: “LOVE NYC” was a common motif and, at one store, “STAY STRONG.”

Seafood from a can gets a bad rap — dismissed as survival fare that gathers dust in the back of many people’s pantries. But you can do a lot with tinned fish, says the cookbook author David Tanis.

You can make anchovy crostini, tuna-stuffed peppers or a big plate of spicy pasta, spruced up with canned baby clams, bacon and peas. Tanis suggests splurging for high-quality anchovies and tuna if you can. If not, work with what you have.

With real-life sports mostly on hiatus, gamblers are flocking to the competitive video-game matches known as e-sports. Since early March, half of all sports betting in Europe has reportedly been on video games.

Bettors can wager on players trying to shoot each other in games like Call of Duty, or facing off in sports games like FIFA 20 or Madden NFL 20. Some sports books even offer betting on completely automated matches — that is, computer versus computer.

It sounds like a plot lifted straight from Hollywood. A decade ago, a New Mexico art collector named Forrest Fenn buried treasure in the Rocky Mountains and self-published a book challenging people to find it. According to Fenn, the chest — filled with gold, gems and artifacts — is worth around $2 million. Over the weekend, he said, someone found it.

“I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot,” Fenn wrote on his website. He created the treasure hunt after recovering from kidney cancer.

At least two people died trying to find the treasure, and Fenn still refused to retrieve the chest. “If someone drowns in the swimming pool we shouldn’t drain the pool,” he said in 2017. “We should teach people to swim.”

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Netflix selection (four letters).

You can find all of our puzzles here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. The word “fancams” — videos by K-pop fans featuring their favorite singers, recently used in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — appeared for the first time in The Times yesterday, as noted by the Twitter bot @NYT_first_said.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about proposals to defund police departments in the U.S. And in the latest episode of “Popcast,” two former editors of The Source, a hip-hop magazine, retell how the publication covered the 1992 uprisings over the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles.

The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.

Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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