Analysis: After APD's "Defunding", The "Law and Order" Empire Strikes Back
At a Trump/Pence rally in the Lake Travis area Wednesday, Congressman Roger Williams (R-TX-25) proved to be an able surrogate - at least when it came to mimicking the President's penchant for saying the quiet part out loud.
In both his prepared remarks and in interviews with local media after the event, Williams was not shy about revealing the true intentions behind the recent Republican "Law and Order" warning shot to local governments: continue to fund the militarization of police... or else we will lay siege to your cities.
"We must stand with our law enforcement and make sure they know that we are with them," Williams said to the dozen or so Trump loyalists in attendance. "I am with them, you are with them and we will not take no for an answer."
While at first glance this sounds no different than the boilerplate "back the Blue" rhetoric the GOP uses on the regular, Williams also detailed exactly what being "with them" meant. When discussing the Obama-era executive order to limit police access to military equipment that was rescinded by president Trump, Williams made it abundantly clear that the real aim of protecting police budgets is to preserve the ability for local police to wage war on their citizens.
"How are we going to fight?" Williams asked. "How are we going to get these people off the streets if we don't have the weapons to do it?"
So why is a sitting U.S. congressman arguing to preserve the DoD-to-police pipeline of military weapons and equipment (including night vision goggles, reflex sights, and mine-resistant vehicles) to make sure those departments have the "weapons" they need to "fight" U.S. citizens and "get these people off the streets"? Well, let's follow the money and find out!
Williams' complaint against defunding police departments seems to have less to do with actual public safety and more to do with maintaining the ability for the DoD to sell or loan their high-dollar military equipment to police departments (and with that, maintaining the existing power structure's ability to violently crack down on any populist uprising that might emerge, like the recent BLM protests). So it comes as no surprise that Williams' campaign is funded by defense contractors, real estate lawyers, construction contractors, auto groups and other big dollar beneficiaries of the status quo. British weapons manufacturer BAE Systems donated $10,000 to his campaign and (more critically) recently pledged to open a new campus in his district. William's top financial backer is (drumroll, please!) Lockheed-Martin with $29,600 dollars - nearly double his next highest contributor. Add to that list the ubiquitous Koch Industries ($10,000), and BK2 Holdings, a not-so-dark money shell company linked to New York native and Republican-leaning walking ATM Bruce Kovner.
Given that list, it is also unsurprising that Williams strongly supports Texas Governor Greg Abbott's proposed legislation to freeze the property tax revenues of cities who move money out of their police departments or cut their budgets. In a recent interview, Abbott made it clear that he views funneling tax dollars into today's militarized police force as the primary function of city governments.
"Basically, it leaves the city of Austin - as well as any other city - no option but to continue to fund law enforcement to keep communities safe," crowed Abbott. "Without law enforcement officers keeping communities safe, all other functions of government are rendered... basically nullified. Public Safety is job one."
Of course, it should be noted that out of the $152 million "defunded" from the APD, $21 million of it is going to fund immediate public safety concerns, including COVID-19 relief, family violence shelters and response, permanent housing assistance, mental health response teams and food access. While training three new PD cadet classes would take months or even years, this money is now arguably being spent on more immediate relief of public safety issues in an entertainment-focused city devastated by a large COVID outbreak and its related layoffs, shutdowns, bar closures and furloughs.
Not only that, but more than half of the money defunded ($79M) will continue going to the same programs that were previously being funded - the only difference being that the administration of these programs will no longer be done internally by APD. This includes victims' services, community partnerships, communications and 9-1-1 dispatch, which will all now be handled by civilians.
Even more importantly, the plan also removes Internal Affairs and Special Investigations from the APD's jurisdiction and puts them under independent management. This - along with Williams' railing against the proposal to end qualified immunity as "allowing people to frivolously sue officers for just doing their jobs" - raises a somewhat rhetorical question: who are the "Law and Order" politicians really interested in protecting? The public, the police, or their own campaign war chests?
While "defund" has certainly been latched onto by the mainstream of both parties at this point, of the more effective messages of the recent "Black Lives Matter" protests has been the call to "re-imagine public safety." It clearly made an impact on Casar, who labeled an entire phase of his plan the "re-imagine safety fund."
With their recent comments and policy responses, it is clear that Abbott, Williams and their confederates have no interest in exercising their imaginations to find ways to improve public safety for the people mistreated by its corruptions or brutalized by its cruelties. Their definition of public safety is simple and unyielding: police officers, armed to the teeth and ready for war, cracking down swiftly and violently on anyone who gets out of line. Cities who attempt to re-imagine public safety in any other meaningful way will have their funding frozen by the state - essentially held hostage by the very weapons they are trying to defund.