Defund D.C. Police? No, Says Bowser

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Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham and Mayor Muriel Bowser at the opening of the National Law Enforcement Museum in 2018. Photo by Jeff Malet.

The Black Lives Matter protests triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have come to include demands to defund police departments. On June 10, despite the mayor’s opposition, the District Council unanimously approved several reforms to the Metropolitan Police Department, also considering a proposal to remove all protective officers from D.C. public schools.

Yet, in recent weeks, the city has experienced not only peaceful protests but nights of vandalism and looting. On the weekend of May 29, the first day of the District’s cautious Phase One reopening, thousands of protestors jammed Lafayette Square and the streets around the White House. Fires were started in St. John’s Church and the national AFL-CIO headquarters. Over the next three days, hundreds of businesses were damaged, including 57 in Georgetown, with curfew and pandemic regulations widely ignored.

On June 1, Second District MPD Cmdr. Duncan Bedlion apologized for failing Georgetown. “Every one of our personnel, including administrative staff, were ordered to protect the downtown. We simply didn’t have enough people,” he said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has responded with flexible enforcement and gestures of support. She ordered “Black Lives Matter” to be painted in huge yellow letters on two blocks of 16th Street NW leading to the White House, with the stretch renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. When a “Defund the Police” street painting suddenly appeared next to the BLM one, the mayor did not remove it, although she said she did not approve of the message.

Bowser has refused to consider a reversal of her proposed additional funding for D.C. police services. “We fund the police at the level that we need it funded, including increased training and safety net programs,” she said in a June 10 interview on National Public Radio station WAMU.

Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee agreed. “Law enforcement and security guards are critical to student safety,” he said on June 11.

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