A Trump for President ad deceptively suggests that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden supports a campaign to “defund the police.” But Biden has said explicitly that he doesn’t.
The ad says, “Biden fails to stand up to the radical leftists fighting to defund and abolish the police.” It then presents images of three signs saying “defund the police” and a fourth image of the slogan painted on a street.
However, Biden has said categorically and repeatedly that he opposes defunding the police, a cause espoused by some of those protesting the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and police misconduct in general.
“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” Biden told “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell on June 8. “I support conditioning federal aid to police, based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness. And, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.”
Biden reiterated that position in an op-ed published in USA Today on June 10.
Biden, June 10: While I do not believe federal dollars should go to police departments violating people’s rights or turning to violence as the first resort, I do not support defunding police. The better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms.
So, while the former vice president has rejected the notion of defunding the police, police could lose some federal aid if they refuse to implement what Biden called “meaningful reforms.” Then again, police could also receive more funding to implement changes in policing, under Biden’s approach.
When we asked the Biden campaign about the issue, spokesman Andrew Bates sent us a statement on June 11 saying that Biden opposes defunding the police but supports reforms the protesters are seeking. The statement also says Biden supports more money for certain initiatives that would strengthen the relationship between the police and the community and for body-worn cameras.
Bates, June 11: Biden supports the urgent need for reform — including funding for public schools, summer programs, and mental health and substance abuse treatment separate from funding for policing — so that officers can focus on the job of policing. This also means funding community policing programs that improve relationships between officers and residents, and provides the training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths. This funding would also go towards diversifying police departments so that they resemble the communities in which they serve. We also need additional funding for body-worn cameras.
Asked about the repeated references to “defund the police” in the ad, Trump Campaign Deputy Communications Director Zach Parkinson repeated the ad’s central message, adding that “law enforcement organizations have said they feel abandoned by Biden.”
The ad debuted on June 11. The Trump campaign has spent about $70,000 to air it in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, according to Advertising Analytics.
So what does “defund the police” mean? It is not really a precise term. Some critics of the police, who believe there is systemic racism in law enforcement, really do want to abolish police forces. Others advocate shifting some money and functions away from police departments to social service agencies. In the wake of Floyd’s death, nine members of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to dismantle the city’s police department. It’s not entirely clear what would happen after that.
Ad’s Antifa Allegations
The ad also asserts that antifa is responsible for the rioting and looting that erupted in some cities in conjunction with protests after George Floyd’s death. “Antifa is destroying our communities,” the ad’s narrator says over images of chaos and mayhem in the streets. But it provides no evidence to support that contention, and in fact little has surfaced to date.
The Trump administration has said that antifa, an umbrella term for loosely affiliated far-left militant anti-fascism groups, has been responsible for much of the violence.
At a press conference at the Justice Department June 4, Attorney General William Barr said, “We have evidence that Antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity.”
On May 31, President Donald Trump tweeted, “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.” But as we have reported, there is no official federal designation for domestic terrorism organizations.
Thus far little support has emerged for the idea that antifa is behind the violence.
In an interview with Fox News on June 8, Barr described the violent protesters as “a witches’ brew of extremist groups that are trying to exploit this situation on all sides.” A New York Times review of the federal arrests found no one arrested for serious crimes had any known ties to antifa.
New York Times, June 11: But despite cries from President Trump and others in his administration, none of those charged with serious federal crimes amid the unrest have been linked so far to the loose collective of anti-fascist activists known as antifa. A review of the arrests of dozens of people on federal charges reveals no known effort by antifa to perpetrate a coordinated campaign of violence. Some criminal complaints described vague, anti-government political leanings among suspects, but the majority of the violent acts that have taken place at protests have been attributed by federal prosecutors to individuals with no affiliation to any particular group.
Josh Rubenstein, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, told the Times, “We saw no organized effort of antifa here in Los Angeles.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said, “As I sit here today, I have not received any sort of official information identifying any of the groups.”
In one case, three men said by authorities to have ties to right-wing extremist groups were arrested in Las Vegas for trying to hijack protests against Floyd’s death and foment violence. In another case, local police in Austin, Texas, arrested three members of Red Guards Austin — which the Austin police described as “a self-identified communist/socialist Antifa group.” Red Guards Austin describes itself as a “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist collective” on its Facebook page and voices support for antifa on its website.
Asked about evidence supporting the ad’s suggestion that antifa was behind much of the violence, a Trump campaign spokesman pointed us to Barr’s remarks about the group.
For much of his career Biden has taken strong anti-crime positions and been close to law enforcement groups. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was the primary author of the multifaceted 1994 crime bill, which included “three-strikes” mandatory life sentences for repeat violent offenders, funding for community policing and prisons, an assault weapons ban and the Violence Against Women Act. The bill has been faulted as leading to mass incarceration, particularly of blacks. (As we have written, the trend of increasing imprisonment began decades before the 1994 crime bill championed by then-Sen. Biden, but experts have told us the law exacerbated the incarceration problem.)
In the wake of the recent protests, Biden has focused on his support for police reform measures and oversight, alienating some of his allies in law enforcement.
To sum up, Biden’s position is that police must meet certain standards to receive federal aid. But he has renounced a broader “defund the police” approach, and the Trump campaign ad is misleading to suggest he hasn’t.
Editor’s note: Swing State Watch is an occasional series about false and misleading political messages in key states that will help decide the 2020 presidential election.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.