Rep. Clyburn says Democrats' use of 'defund the police' is 'cutting the throats of the party'

Rep. Clyburn: We aren’t against policing, we’re against rotten police officials

South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn weighs in on police reform following George Floyd’s funeral.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Democrats’ use of slogans like “defund the police” is “cutting the throats of the party” in an interview with The New York Times.

Clyburn was responding to a question about his decision to endorse Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, a moderate Democrat, for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge’s former Ohio congressional seat over Nina Turner, the progressive frontrunner of the race, who co-chaired Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential run. 

“What I try to do is demonstrate by precept and example how we are to proceed as a party,” Clyburn told the Times. “When I spoke out against sloganeering, like ‘burn, baby, burn’ in the 1960s and ‘defund the police,’ which I think is cutting the throats of the party, I know exactly where my constituents are. They are against that, and I’m against that.

The House majority whip, who has repeatedly voiced concerns against calls to reduce police funding, made similar comments in November when he told Axios that Democrats struggled in the 2020 elections “because we were not able to discipline ourselves according to voter sentiment.”

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“We keep making that mistake. This foolishness about you got to be this progressive or that progressive,” he said, adding that the “phrase, ‘defund the police,’ cost [Democratic Senate candidate] Jaime Harrison tremendously.”

Turner herself, however, said the connotation of the word “defund” was pushing members of Congress away from reform policy in a June 2020 interview with Hill.TV, though she has campaigned on police reform and other progressive policy ideas including Medicare for All.

“We are programmed in this country to believe that the way policing exists today is the way that it has to be, it’s a fear-mongering kind of mentality,” Turner told the program, adding that she believes “the history of the police has not been one of ‘protect and serve.’”

She continued: “Law enforcement is a microcosm of the United States of America, so this moment cannot just be about the police or law enforcement agencies. This moment is about how we erase systemic racism, tear down those systems and reimagine another way of doing business. That really is what defund the police is all about.”

Clyburn’s comments come after White House press secretary Jen Psaki attempted to pin efforts to reduce police department funding on Republicans; some Democratic locales, however, have moved to reduce police funding over the last year following George Floyd’s May 2020 murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

City leaders and federal lawmakers across the country revisit conversations about defunding police departments amid violent crime rates that have been rising since 2020. In some cities, those conversations led to increased police funding whiles others led to significantly reduced funding amid calls to rethink policing.

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