GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko Blames Crime Spike On 'Defund The Police,' And We Have Some Questions
Ever since the phrase "defund the police" broke through to the mainstream, it's been doing a lot of heavy lifting for the kind of people who are fond of saying things that sound true, but fall apart at the slightest serious consideration.
GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko of Arizona complained on Twitter Thursday that "Democrats won't take responsibility for the fact that the rise in crime is due to the Defund the Police movement."
Democrats won’t take responsibility for the fact that the rise in crime is due to the Defund the Police movement. I… https://t.co/TKhQ8OF52U— Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (@Congresswoman Debbie Lesko) 1624560097.0
Right now, there are some Democrats reading that and going "Foiled by The Squad AGAIN!" and Republicans reading that and going "Wow, so true." But because I am a jerk who likes to suck the fun out of everything, I have questions.
First of all, how the hell would that even work, Debbie? Because even in the few areas that have slightly cut police budgets in order to fund other safety programs, those budgets have not been in effect this whole time and some of them won't go into effect for a while now. And for the record, absolutely none of those small budget cuts were in areas that were going to affect the ability of police officers to do their job. The police have not been defunded. So we're literally just talking about rhetoric here.
What do you think happened, Debbie? Like, calls to defund the police ramped up after the murder of George Floy, causing people to think to themselves "Oh wow, I am very inspired to go do some violent crime now?" What is the trajectory here, given that the police were not in fact defunded? Are criminals trying to prove cops are necessary? Is that their end game? The criminals are pro-cop? Oh! Or are they taking advantage of the fact that cops might be less likely to murder them, for fear that it will lead to more people calling to defund the police?
That last one might be plausible if the cops had any obligation to protect people from violent crime in the first place, which the Supreme Court ruled they do not.
It's also unclear why that would lead to a spike in violent crime. I mean I have to admit, every time I look at police clearance rates for various crimes, I briefly consider that I could easily get away with some crime. (Briefly! As a thought experiment!). Probably burglary or stealing a car because they only solve 13 or 14 percent of those. Heck, they only solve 60 percent of homicides and that's their highest clearance rate for any crime. But I don't quite see how a few people merely discussing redirecting some police funding to services that might be able to handle certain problems more effectively (and without killing people!) would have that same effect.
Still, so much for "Oh, you want to defund the police? Who are you going to call when someone steals your stuff?"
Clearance rates for various crimes.
Fun fact! The police actually steal more stuff from people than burglars do, thanks to a fun little thing called "civil asset forfeiture" that allows them to take and keep cash and property from people without convicting or even charging them with anything, and statistically this has been found to do absolutely jack shit when it comes to solving any actual crimes.
Another fun fact! The clearance rate for homicides where the victim is Black has actually plummeted from over 80 percent in 1976 to just over 55 percent in 2017.
There are many reasons why violent crime could be spiking. Heck, we don't even have comprehensive crime statistics for this year and probably won't see them until 2022, so it is possible the "spike" won't look quite so big in hindsight. But assuming it's as big as some say, my personal guess would be that it is related to people having gone a little stir crazy during the pandemic and/or people being on edge and stressed out due to the economic instability caused by COVID. But as I do not know either of these things for a fact, I'm not going to claim they are facts.
But "defund the police" is definitely no kind of possibility. It does not make sense.
Debbie Lesko is not the first person to claim this, by the way. It's been pushed on Fox News, by various conservatives and police unions eager to tie the spike in violent crime to civil rights activism, because they want the latter to go away.
We talk a lot about the dangers of disinformation, particularly in an era with so many bizarre conspiracy theories floating around. But sometimes the less bizarre, more plausible-sounding scenarios that people will easily accept at face value without thinking too deeply about -- things people won't question because they're afraid doing so will make others assume they are on the wrong side of things or support something they don't actually support -- are actually more insidious.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse