Massachusetts Democrat Senate Candidates Both Back Defunding Police

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, left, elbow-bumps Sen. Edward Markey after their debate for the Democratic primary for senator from Massachusetts, Monday, June 1, 2020, in Springfield, Mass. (Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool)
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via AP, Pool

The two Democrats running for Senate in Massachusetts, Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III, openly supported the growing calls to defund the police during a televised debate on Monday.

Markey, who has held his seat since 2013, was the first to agree with the defunding movement, which has gained traction through protests across the country following the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Asked if he supports the “defund the police movement” and funneling money from police budgets to social services, Markey affirmed, “Yes, it is absolutely critical that we stop this school to prison pipeline that we have in our country, and that we fund the kinds of programs that young people of color need … to make sure they can maximize their God-given abilities.”

Primary challenger Kennedy also backed the movement, proclaiming he thinks “we have to totally reform the way that we police in this country, and that does mean going to our budgets and reallocating those budgets.”

While the two candidates concur on most key agenda items, their June 8 debate included fiery moments when discussing criminal justice reform.

Markey berated Kennedy’s decision-making abilities because of his choice to work for someone Markey described as the “most conservative Republican district attorney in Massachusetts in a generation,” Michael O’Keefe, upon graduating from Harvard Law School in 2009, claiming it directly contradicts Kennedy’s desire for sweeping changes to the criminal justice system.

“Congressman Kennedy is a progressive in name only,” Markey claimed.

For his part, Kennedy pointed to the incumbent’s vote for the 1994 crime bill, which fostered increasing incarceration rates and inadvertently jailed a disparate number of blacks. He also brought up Markey’s opposition to desegregation of public schools from the 1970s, arguing he has been more “deliberate” in addressing racial justice than Markey since joining Congress.

The candidates’ support for divesting in law enforcement conflicts with some notable Democrats who are distancing themselves from the blunt “defund the police” tagline, including Massachusetts’ senior senator, Elizabeth Warren, who said defunding “is not the term I would use,” according to Politico.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has publicly rejected the movement, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has also avoided voicing support for it.

Markey and Kennedy, while backing the new defunding calls, have struggled with distinguishing their viewpoints as the September 1 primary draws closer, although the sitting senator continues to trail in polls and had nearly $2 million less than Kennedy in cash on hand as of the end of March.

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