A video advertisement on Facebook from the America First Action SuperPAC misrepresents Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s platform for criminal justice reform, claiming that he wants to defund the police. Biden has in fact resisted demands from liberal activists to defund police departments, instead proposing a $300-million investment in policing, contingent on officers mirroring the diversity of their communities.
The video, called “Joe Biden’s America” and paid for by America First Action, a political action committee (PAC) that promotes President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy agenda, begins with Biden saying “Yes, absolutely, yes,” with the overlaid text “DEFUND THE POLICE?”. A mother and son call 911, only to hear an automated voice say “You have reached 911. Due to budget cuts and increased criminal activity, our agents are busy assisting other callers.” As onscreen text reads “POLICE HAVE FEWER RESOURCES IN JOE BIDEN’S AMERICA,” the child says, “Mommy, I’m scared,” and an ominous figure lurks in the doorway.
The clip of Biden at the beginning of the video comes from an interview with progressive activist Ady Barkan published by NowThis News on Jul 11, 2020 ( here ). On the topic of police reform, Barkan asks Biden around the 2:57 mark, “But do we agree that we can redirect some of the funding?” and Biden answers “Yes, absolutely.” While similar, the question Biden is asked is not “Defund the police?” as the ad implies.
Nationwide protests against police brutality and white supremacy following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 have featured a common rallying cry: “Defund the police” ( here ). This call predates the current protests and is driven both by anger at the militarized posture of many U.S. police departments and by the recognition they are being called on to confront social ills including addiction, mental illness and homelessness that, advocates say, could be better addressed by spending on social services and rethinking what behaviors should be considered crimes.
While some envision virtually abolishing modern police departments, others see it as a call to slash city police budgets, which have grown significantly since the 1990s. Policing and corrections accounted for about 30% of general funding in Atlanta and Orlando in 2017, and nearly 40% in Chicago, according to a report from the Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group.
In his interview with Barkan, Biden does answer “yes” to redirecting some funding, but then changes the topic from policing to prison reform. The former vice president says the prison system “should be a rehabilitation system, not a punishment system,” and that the formerly incarcerated should be given the same rights and be entitled to the same federal programs as Americans who have never gone to prison.
Biden’s “Yes, absolutely” response in this interview does not reflect his campaign’s stance on police reform. Available joebiden.com/justice/ , his platform for criminal justice reform promises to “reinvigorate community-oriented policing” by strengthening the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, “which authorized funding both for the hiring of additional police officers and for training on how to undertake a community policing approach.” Biden intends to “reinvigorate” the program with a $300-million investment, contingent on officers mirroring the diversity of their communities.
In an interview with Norah O’Donnell ( here ) aired by CBS just three days before the NowThis clip was published, Biden said, “I don’t support defunding the police… I support conditioning federal aid to police, based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness.” ( here )
Contrary to the America First Action advert, Biden has not called for “fewer resources” for police departments. His campaign has said it is calling for police departments to receive funding that would allow them to provide better training, equip officers with body cameras and improve relationships with the communities they patrol ( here ).
Biden has drawn criticism from progressive activists, who have expressed disappointment in his proposal to provide $300 million to the COPS program, arguing that doing so would only exacerbate the problem of over-policing ( here ).
On the other side of the spectrum, Trump’s campaign has hammered Biden for not expressly denouncing calls by activists nationwide to sharply curtail local and federal spending on police departments and to funnel money to nonviolent community safety programs ( here ).
Misleading. The advert circulated on social media does not reflect Joe Biden’s policy line thus far. His presidential platform does not include any promises to “defund the police.”
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .
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