Police reforms: Republicans are the better conservatives

11 Feb 2023

Police Vehicle in NYC, USA. (image: Mindaugas Dulinskas, istockphoto.com)

"Police violence". This is the topic authors Annika Brockschmidt1 and Lukas Hermsmeier2 approached in the latest episode of the "Cross and Flag"3 podcast. About police reformation in America.

In his heartbreaking 2020 speech Mike O'Meara - then president of the New York Police Benevolent Association - defended officers against legislators and the press for shaming their profession, treating them like animals and thugs, disrespecting them, for leaving them out of the conversation and vilifying them.4 He criticized, that no one talks about the number of dead police officers (today's statistic: 2,537 Line of Duty Deaths last ten years)5. Since his speech, has the situation for police officers improved? Do they experience more support? How are police reforms going?


Activists are talking a lot about police reforms and police abolition. They are concerned about police violence and people dying during or following police contact: 1110 deaths in the past 12 months.6 They want to change the system 'policing' - not only diversifying the police force or taking out the 'bad apples'. According to Hermsmeier, Kandace Montgomery - co-founder of the 'Black Visions Collective' to transform the Minneapolis community and to defund the police7 - said that sending single police officers to prison is only an "illusion of a solution". Activists want to address the root of problems.

"Capitalism demands inequality" - sign at a BLM protest (image: Socialist Appeal, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Like the, as Brockschmidt calls it, "inherent whiteness" of the institution police. Whiteness here not only meaning skin colour, but a form of white supremacy that gives power about everything non-white: for example the poor. The majority of people dying during or following police contact are white and poor. Police abolitionists do not believe the police if reformable. That is because of the history of the police in the U.S.: In the early 1700s Carolina established slave patrols8 to stop slave uprisings and to capture escaped slaves. These slave patrols existed until the end of the Civil War, until the Thirteenth Amendment9 abolished slavery as an institution in all U.S. states and territories. In the Reconstruction era, slave patrols were replaced by militia groups, enforcing the Black Codes.10 When the Fourteenth Amendment11 granted “equal protection” to any person, the Jim Crow era started. In the early 1900s municipals founded first police departments, to enact the Jim Crow laws. Other tasks of these first police departments included union and worker suppression. Again: police against the poor.12 Activists in 2023 are concerned, that after centuries of police violence it's no possible to make the police more humane. Reducing the contact between police and people is one of the goals of some left groups. They are concerned with the amounts of money going to the police: For example about $11 billion from New York City’s 2020 budget are allocated to the NYPD (the City’s overall budget is $97.8 billion).13 Activists would like to correct this 'misbalance' and invest the money in education or housing instead. Investing into the police - for example for making it more professional or to grow the apparatus - will not erase the history of the police as property protecting institution (slaves and factories being two examples of property protected by the police). Activists would like to stop the spiral in which more property creates more police presence and violence.
According to Brockschmidt and Hermsmeier the police is forever (unsuccessful) fighting symptoms of poverty, missing affordable housing and a too expensive health system. Sending more police will not solve bad political developments.


Activists don't like it, because they see it as another attempt of the police to stand above the law and escape lawmakers: But the police is reforming itself.
The Memphis Police Department is already practicing the "8 Can't Wait" policies14 - policies to de-escalate situations. The Memphis Police Department's "Reimagine Policing" project wants to build "trust between law enforcement and the people".15
St Petersburg (Florida) is piloting the "Community Assistance and Life Liaison (CALL) program"16: Calls for service the Police Department is asked to respond to during a normal day are addressed by a human services professional. For non-violent crimes and issues, it's not necessary for a police officer with a gun to show up.
One of the voices against 'police policing themselves' is author Doreen St. Félix, who calls police reforms by the police a "myth".17 If the police is doing the reforming, then consequently the system 'police' and 'policing' can't be abolished.


Everytime anti-police protests are expected, politicians are calling for 'peaceful protest', turning attention away from the police to the protesters. Biden just did that.18 It was also Biden who in 2022 urged "cities to spend Covid relief money on police, crime prevention"19 and who now requests new investments "to support law enforcement and crime prevention".20
Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer just ended a speech about a man dying following police contact with a call "to create a more just and a more fair America", "to make this country, this beautiful country, a more perfect place and a more perfect nation."21 Implying that everything already is fine (the adjective "perfect" is absolute). Democrat and New York's Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called police violence a "systemic problem", but did not ask for abolishing the police, only for "deeper measures".22

BACK the BLUE (image: David Geitgey Sierralupe from Eugene, Oregon, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Democrats are clearly 'Backing the Blue' here: The system police is good and please everybody stay peaceful in his protest. Democrats don't want to be viewed as 'soft on crime', as crime-loving Marxists and communists. They want to stand for 'law and order' - like the Republicans. Just that the Republicans are better at that:
Republican Representative for Ohio Jim Jordan explicitly spoke out against police reforms after a recent case of a man dying following police contact: "I don’t know that any law, any training, any reform is gonna change … this man was handcuffed, they continued to beat him."23
Republican Senator for Tennessee Marsha Blackburn also made clear that she trusts the police and wants to leave investigation of cases where people died following police contact to the police.24
Republican Senator for South Carolina Tim Scott spoke of the police abusing power but also gave the outlook to continue to trust them "with immense power and responsibility".25


Many activist groups are still working against the police, the most radical of them even want to abolish the police. What shouldn't be forgotten: These activists have been and still are rioting and looting across American cities26, and criminals shouldn't be the ones shaping police reforms.
The police is already reforming itself, even in conservative states. They have the support from both parties: Democrats and Republicans.
Back the Blue!

The podcast episode was published on 09.02.2023. Speakers for this topic were Annika Brockschmidt and Lukas Hermsmeier.

The speakers:

Lukas Hermsmeier: https://twitter.com/lukashermsmeier
Annika Brockschmidt: https://twitter.com/ardenthistorian
The podcast episode:
The podcast: