Noah Smith at Noahpinion:
The video of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police has sparked protests across the country. It’s highly unlikely that this will turn into a national conflagration like the one after the killing of George Floyd in 2020, but it shows that general anger against police brutality remains widespread. And it once again raises the question of what to do about the problem.
Three years ago, activists’ main slogan was “defund the police” (quickly altered from the original “abolish the police”, though many insisted the meaning was the same). This slogan and the idea behind it were a disastrous failure. Even in the initial rush of anti-police fervor after the Floyd protests, cities found it extremely hard to muster the political will to cut police budgets or conduct mass layoffs of police officers. Then a massive wave of murders spread across the country, and Americans remembered that yes, police are very important for reducing violent crime. Pro-cop politicians like New York City Mayor Eric Adams were elected, and by 2021, even Black Americans — traditionally more likely to be the victims of police brutality — wanted more spending on policing in their neighborhoods.
But the death of “defund the police” doesn’t mean that the popular desire — or the need — for police reform has vanished.