One of President Joe Biden’s top nominees for a senior post within the Department of Justice (DOJ) previously argued for the “strategic” defunding of police.
Kristen Clarke, who is Biden’s choice to helm the DOJ’s powerful civil rights division, penned a guest editorial for Newsweek last year at the height of the protests against racial injustice. Using the platform provided by the magazine, Clarke argued that calls to “defund the police”—emanating as a result of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer—spoke to the “urgency” that communities of color felt was needed to reform law enforcement.
“As a former prosecutor in the Department of Justice office who investigated law enforcement killings of civilians and police brutality … I know that we must find solutions that enhance public safety and advance the cause of justice,” wrote Clarke, then the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“I advocate for defunding policing operations that have made African Americans more vulnerable to police violence and contributed to mass incarceration, while investing more in programs and policies that address critical community needs,” she added.
In her op-ed, Clarke proceeded to claim that since prior police reforms had either “failed to have meaningful impact” or were scuttled by the “corrosive influence,” it was important to “reimagine what true public safety can look like.”
“Police departments today have too much contact with communities on issues they were never equipped to address. We can fix this,” Clarke wrote. “We must invest less in police and more in social workers.”
It is unclear if the Biden White House knew of Clarke’s support for defunding the police when deciding to nominate her to serve as assistant attorney general in charge of civil rights. Requests for comment by the White House were not returned for this story.
Clarke, who if confirmed by the United States Senate to her DOJ post would have wide purview over law enforcement, has not addressed her prior support for defunding the police publicly.
The issue of defunding has become something of a complex problem for Democrats. When it first emerged last year, support for the cause quickly gained traction among progressives and social justice activists.
Many on the left felt that the outrage sparked by Floyd’s death presented an opportunity to reform law enforcement practices to protect against racial bias and prevent police brutality. Some, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), even argued that defunding police department budgets would help provide more resources for efforts to combat poverty—which is speculated to be a root cause of crime.
Despite support for defunding the police among progressives, the issue proved to be highly controversial among voters. Data from the 2020 race indicates that suburban and moderate voters, particularly, were opposed to the idea.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) admitted as much telling CNN after the 2020 election that slogans like “defund the police” had probably cost Democrats votes.