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  • Norman Young

Can Democratic Cities Be Trusted with Police Powers?

Perhaps we've been thinking about this police reform thing all wrong. In 1965, in response to racist abuses by State governments, the federal government (under the leadership of moral paragon Lyndon Johnson) removed the right of State governments to control their own electoral processes. Many Southerners argue that this was an unnecessary federal overreach, but most Americans in the North and on the political Left believe it was a justified response to systemic injustice.

What can we learn from this example?

As the heart of racism in America moves from the Democratic Deep South to the Democratic Inner City, perhaps we can look back to the Civil Rights era for guidance about how to deal with systemically-racist, Democratic governments. President Johnson simply took problematic powers away from the racists and delegated them to a higher authority. Simple. Effective.

This option is open to us, now. It is entirely within the realm of political possibility for State governments to take responsibility for policing away from the systemically-racist Democratic inner cites and re-delegate those powers to itself. Some of the more radical BlackLivesMatter protesters have already suggested doing so. The hashtag #DefundThePolice has been trending along with #BlackLivesMatter, and at least one Democratic mayor has been confronted by protesters and pressured to consider the option.

Obviously, political leaders that preside over systemically-racist city governments (like Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey) won't always hand over power willingly. But, the State government has the power to defund the local police departments and send in State troopers to maintain order and keep the peace. President Trump already offered to defund Minneapolis' (and other Democratic cities') police forces, once before. At that time, America's racial awareness had not yet been piqued by the George Floyd incident. Few in the media heralded Trump's prescient idea.

How would we know which cities to defund?

Well, there are several ways we could measure the systemic racism of a city's government. David French recently offered us an "academic" definition of "systemic racism" that we can use, for example, where any/all disparate economic or social outcomes among minority groups are prima facie evidence of racism. We can also utilize the number of reported racist incidents and complaints. After all, government officials who insinuate that such reports might be false or exaggerated are, ipso facto, racist—which further condemns their government. Perhaps we can even use the presence of riots as another indicator of racism. After all, as Chris Cuomo explained on CNN, riots are "forced" to happen by systemic racism.

Ok, perhaps my previous suggestions about racism-hunting were facetious. But, I doubt any such measurements of the racism of Democrat cities would be needed, anyway. At this point, given the amount of "political activism" in their districts, many Democratic city officials are more than willing to save themselves the headache of trying to establish law and order without offending anyone. By off-loading the responsibility for policing to more competent State governments, Democratic mayors would spare themselves most of bad press they have been receiving for weeks, now.

As an added bonus, by giving rioters what they ask for and and instantly replacing all recently-protested local police departments by more distant and competent State forces, we might soon see fewer riots, as well. Activists stop when they have an incentive to stop. And, seeing increasingly distant, professionalized troops in their back yard after every "defund the police" protest just might do the trick. It's fun to yell at your local constable; it's less fun to try to shout down the National Guard. This was the wisdom behind Tom Cotton's recent op-ed.

The only alternative course of action is for Americans to stop pretending that activism is a virtue and instead to rationally weigh the costs of rare-but-present police violence in mostly-Democratic inner cities against the pervasive violence that requires so many cops to be on the streets in the first place. But, doing this requires valuing Free Speech more than online reputation. It requires actually caring about all black lives, not pretending to be Jesus on national TV. I'm not sure this current generation of Americans has it in them. But, I hope I'm wrong.

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