This column originally appeared in the Detroit News.
To defund the police or not to defund the police? Voters deserve answers.
Today, voters across Michigan are filling out absentee ballots and picking candidates they believe best align with their values. Millions of others will head to the polls on the first Tuesday of August for Michigan’s Primary Election.
In an era of big political parties and partisan group-think, there’s often not much that separates one Democrat from another, one Republican from the next. This year might be different.
Our communities are split — some are splintering — over calls to defund the police. The August state House primary races, along with county positions, are the first chance voters get to stake out their ground on the issue at the ballot box; and the choices they make could have a profound impact on law enforcement budgets for years to come.
Do you want to defund the police? There may be a local candidate who agrees with you. Do you oppose attempts to defund the police? There may be a local candidate who agrees with you, too, but how can you be sure? Make your candidate stake out a public position.
The devastating and horrific killing of George Floyd in Minnesota sparked more than a national protest. It sparked a vital public policy conversation over the role of police, the approach they take “on the beat” and the way they interact with African Americans, other minority communities, and all people. We know reforms are necessary.
These conversations are essential. The protests have been necessary. So has the selfless and genuine response of the overwhelming majority of Michigan’s remarkable law enforcement officers.
Of course, not everyone agrees. You may not agree. That’s the point. There’s an election where we each get a voice.
Unfortunately, on the biggest — perhaps the most important — issue of the year, many candidates have been silent, hoping to sneak by without addressing the big question.
Others have been more vocal.
Last week, protesters blocked off city streets in downtown Detroit, declared the area an autonomous, “cop-free” “liberation zone” and demanded city leaders defund the local police.
At the state Capitol, frequent protests have demanded leaders defund the police, and called for the resignation of Lansing's liberal Democratic Mayor Andy Schor, because he’s refused the demand.
In Grand Rapids, several City Commissioners and their supporters are backing defund demands that would result in the equivalent termination of the local police department’s entire night shift and half its investigative unit.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, in an interview with The Root, claimed she, too, supports the “spirit” of efforts at “defunding the police.”
Of course, violent criminals have spoken out, too.
The Associated Press reported last week that cities across the country are experiencing a surge in shootings that have claimed the lives of dozens, including young children. In Dallas, violent crime is up 14%. In Philadelphia, the murder rate jumped 20%. Closer to home, homicides are up 30% in Detroit over last year.
Voters deserve to know, and candidates must be clear where they stand on calls to defund the police, particularly in primary races where many contests get decided.
With Democrats asking voters for the chance to lead, and with their eyes set on a state House majority in 2021, voters must know who they're selecting in August. Does a local candidate want to defund the police or not? The choices made next month could determine whether there are police on local streets for the decade ahead.
Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.