Politicians of all persuasions are waking up to the smell of fresh coffee this morning, along with news of Eric Adams‘ projected win in the Democratic primary race for mayor of New York City. After more than a year of political calls to “Defund the Police,” New Yorkers decided to back a former police captain who says he will be tough on crime. With GOP voters outnumbered by seven to one in the Big Apple, Mr. Adams appears to be a lock for the job.
A progressive candidate endorsed by media darling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), as well as former presidential hopeful Andrew Yang (also a former candidate in the mayoral race), lost out to a man who has not followed the party narrative on policing and crime. With the specter of the 2022 election looming large, does this signal a sea change in voter attitudes, or have Democrats exposed their 2022 Achilles’ Heel?
A One-Sided Narrative?
Prominent Democrats have been banging the anti-police drum since the cause was popularized by Black Lives Matter riots during the poorly named “summer of love.” In April, Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted, “No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed.” AOC echoed this call in June but with a slightly more nuanced approach. She wrote, “‘Defund’ means that Black & Brown communities are asking for the same budget priorities that White communities have already created for themselves: schooling > police,etc.,”
President Joe Biden has of late attempted to walk the fine line between being tough on crime and enacting the police cuts that members of his party are demanding. His latest effort focuses – perhaps unsurprisingly – on gun laws. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pitched the idea that police reform goes hand in hand with reducing crime. She said, “Communities across the country who advocate and support police reform, they don’t see it as a mutually exclusive issue; neither does the president.”
Yet with crime of all varieties, not just gun crime, on the rise, it could be Biden’s mixed messaging that swings the 2022 pendulum.
A Collision Course With Reality
The crime wave that has beset the nation since last summer has become an elephant that can no longer be ignored; even left-leaning news outlets that are nominally supportive of the defund the police movement are now writing of the explosion in violent crime. One notable outlet reports, “63 of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw increases in at least one category of violent crimes in 2020, which include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.”
Recent polling shows that 59% of Americans believe the issue of crime is either “extremely” (28%) or “very” (31%) serious; 55% said that “increasing funding for police departments” would reduce crime. Rightly or wrongly, the ideas of a larger police force and decreased crime are inextricably entwined in voters’ minds, and each time a politician talks of defunding or even vague reforms of law enforcement, people fear a rise in violence.
As House and Senate politicos set out their stalls for the 2022 midterms, those who espouse anti-police rhetoric are alienating concerned citizens who want safer streets and communities. To maintain majorities in either chamber, Democrats will have to break through a barrier of fear and convince voters to take a stand against what has long been considered received wisdom. If the almost certain victory of Eric Adams as the next mayor of New York is a measure of how well this messaging will be accepted, Republicans may just have found the Democrat Achilles’ Heel.
Read more from Mark Angelides.