In these trying times, it’s difficult to find something to smile about. But I’ve found some modicum of mirth watching very sympathetic liberals go the extra mile to help hone the message of activists calling to “defund the police.” For instance, Katy Tur, an MSNBC anchor, had Isaac Bryan, the executive director of the Black Policy Project at UCLA on “Meet the Press Daily” to explain what “Defund the Police” really means.

“Isaac, thank you so much for joining us. Let‘s talk about what this means because I think there are a lot of people out there who hear defund the police and [think] it means abolishing a police department. It doesn‘t. So can you explain it to me?”

Bryan very politely replied that he disagreed with the premise of the question. Defund the police doesn’t in fact preclude abolishing the police. Bryan says the term means taking that idea “as far as the political imagination and the political will of our leaders across the country is willing to push this idea.”

Most Democratic politicians understand that actually abolishing police departments root and branch would be close to political suicide (and terrible policy). Even Sen. Bernie Sanders is against it. They also understand that nobody in America wants the Democrats to embrace this idea more than Donald Trump.

That’s why many liberals want “Defund the Police” to mean “reform the police” or even “reinvent the police.” The problem is the activists who hold the emotional and psychological high ground won’t play along. When the mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, spoke with protesters last week, he said almost everything the crowd wanted, about fundamental reform, systemic racism, etc. But when a leader of the protests asked him, “yes or no” do you favor outright abolition of the police, he said no. The crowd booed. The leader told him to get the [expletive deleted] out of here. And he wandered off to chants of “shame” and a sea of extended middle fingers.

What we have here isn’t a failure to communicate but a legitimate difference of opinion. Some people favor serious reform. Some favor actual abolition. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that the people who truly favor abolition should continue to say so and the people who don’t should probably stop trying to prove their solidarity by using a slogan they disagree with. And, so far, most prominent Democrats, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have done exactly that.

So much for the politics. What about the actual ideas?

Let’s start with reform. Banning choke holds, redirecting some responsibilities to mental health professionals, EMTs, and social workers has been tried with some success. Moving further on that front is sensible.

Repealing “qualified immunity” laws so that police officers can be held more responsible for their actions is more complicated but certainly worth exploring. As a matter of principle, I’m opposed to all public sector unions, even if some do worthwhile things, so I’m certainly open to fresh thinking about police unions.

Many people have focused on the example of Camden, New Jersey, as a model for defunding the police. Except it isn’t. In 2012, the cash strapped city disbanded the existing force, which was rife with corruption and union-fueled dysfunction, and started over. They rehired some 100 officers and committed to retraining. It appears to have been modestly successful. But no one driving through Camden today would mistake it for some cop-free utopia where yeoman citizens police themselves.

But abolishing the police? That’s insane. No really, it’s insane. Who will respond to school shootings? Social workers? What about bank robberies? Who will investigate murders? If you just want to rename the police, fine. But the police function is essential to a civilized society. And there are times when that function can only be performed by agents of the government willing and able to use force.

Some defunders propose community patrols, which sound a bit like local militias to me. But whatever name you give them, how does that not create more problems? Do you really want untrained groups of cop wannabes confronting “suspicious” characters in a neighborhood? That’s how Trayvon Martin got killed by George Zimmerman. All of the problems with race, but also class, would be exacerbated if local communities took it upon themselves to do police work. Affluent, mostly white, communities would have more resources and poorer, mostly black, communities would have fewer.

Anger over George Floyd’s killing is justified. But what is true of individuals is also true of mass movements: You don’t do your best thinking when you’re really angry.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Today’s racial turmoil, which was detonated by a Minneapolis instance of lethal police behavior toward an African American, is more serious than any since 1992. Then, after the verdict exonerating the police who beat an African American, Rodney King, six days of rioting engulfed a swath of L…

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

WHEN I heard that the statue of Stonewall Jackson had been pulled down in Richmond, I wondered why it was in Richmond when Stonewall was from North Carolina and made his career in Nashville, then I remembered that in addition to the country singer, there had been a Confederate general.

Sunday, July 05, 2020
Friday, July 03, 2020

THE BEAUTY of quarantine is that you don’t have to see people you don’t want to see, which simplifies life, just as memory loss does. Life comes down to basics. Sleeping, eating, talking, reading, writing, cooking, doing your business. Days are so quiet that a cup of ginger tea might be a hi…

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

NOW that statues of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant and Theodore Roosevelt have been desecrated, vandalized, toppled and smashed, it appears Woodrow Wilson’s time has come. The cultural revolution has come to the Ivy League. Though Wilson attended Princeton as an un…

Sunday, June 28, 2020
Friday, June 26, 2020

MY ADVICE to you, young people, is to start asking questions of your elders about family history and who did what when and why and don’t stop until you get answers because, though you’re much too cool to be interested in family history now, someday you’ll want to know these things and by tha…

Sunday, June 21, 2020

“POLICING itself started out as slave patrols. We know that,” Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) declared in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. Clyburn, the House majority whip, is the third highest ranking Democrat in Congress. He’s widely respected. And he’s wrong. Or, to be more generous, he’…

Friday, June 19, 2020

I’VE NOW spent three months in a Manhattan apartment with my wife and daughter, a life that is not so different from, say, living in a lighthouse in the Orkneys. We can see tall buildings, some bright lights, helicopters overhead, but it’s not the New York high life I dreamed of growing up i…

Saturday, June 13, 2020

In these trying times, it’s difficult to find something to smile about. But I’ve found some modicum of mirth watching very sympathetic liberals go the extra mile to help hone the message of activists calling to “defund the police.” For instance, Katy Tur, an MSNBC anchor, had Isaac Bryan, th…