Conor Friedersdorf: “Solve all murders” should replace “Defund the police”

August 14, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic, seems to specialize in stories that either contradict the woke narrative or promote civil liberties—not exactly the fare you’d expect from a liberal magazine.  You wouldn’t, for example, see the article discussed here in either The New Yorker, New York Magazine, or The New York Times. But I like Friedersdorf because he writes well and, I suppose, because I generally agree with him.

The topic of his most recent column is the “Defund the police” slogan, which has proved to be disastrous for the Left—so much so that they’re starting to pretend that it’s really a Republic mantra. And about that mantra, Steely Dan said, in another context, “Only a fool would say that.” There’s evidence that enlarging police forces reduces crime, and that enlarging the police saves twice as many black lives as white lives. That’s because a disproportionately high percentage of murder victims (nearly half) are black, despite African-Americans making up only 13% of the country’s population. In view of this, and of Americans’ general repugnance to “defund the police” calls, Friedersdorf suggests another slogan.

We’ve already learned two things from the “Defund the police” campaign. First, when you press its adherents, you see that many aren’t actually calling for drastically cutting police budgets. Well, they may say they are, but when they realize the stupidity of their claim that getting rid of cops will solve the problem of crime, they quickly bring up stuff like drawing social workers and negotiators into working with the police. I have no objection to that, but there are still too many people who really want the police gone. They are morons.

Second, the people most opposed to “Defund the police” campaigns are those who are inordinately often the victims of crime: minorities. That slogan may have given Trump a boost (thank god not a big enough one) in the last election, and cost Democrats seats in Congress. As Friedersdorf notes:

The utter unpopularity of defunding the police has since become even clearer. By 2021, some of the cities that made the most significant gestures toward cuts to police budgets were reversing themselves. In March, a USA Today poll found that nationwide, “Only 18 percent of respondents supported the movement known as ‘defund the police,’ and 58 percent said they opposed it,” adding that “only 28% of Black Americans and 34% of Democrats were in favor of it.” The victor in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary in June was Eric Adams, a former police officer who ran against “defund the police.” In July, another USA Today poll surveyed residents of Detroit as that city suffered a rapid increase in murders. “By an overwhelming 9–1, they would feel safer with more cops on the street, not fewer,” the newspaper reported. “Though one-third complain that Detroit police use force when it isn’t necessary—and Black men report high rates of racial profiling—those surveyed reject by 3–1 the slogan of some progressives to ‘defund the police.’”

So progressive Democrats should find themselves another slogan. Friedersdorf suggests “solve all murders”, mainly because there’s a huge and disturbing disparity in the proportion of murders solved depending on the race of the victim:

The Murder Accountability Project, a nonprofit watchdog group that tracks unsolved murders, found in 2019 that “declining homicide clearance rates for African-American victims accounted for all of the nation’s alarming decline in law enforcement’s ability to clear murders through the arrest of criminal offenders.” In Chicago, the public-radio station WBEZ’s analysis of 19 months of murder-investigation records showed that “when the victim was white, 47% of the cases were solved … For Hispanics, the rate was about 33%. When the victim was African American, it was less than 22%.” Another study in Indianapolis found the same kind of disparities.

Eliminating such disparities ought to be a priority for all Americans, including anti-racist activists. But that’s unlikely so long as Black Lives Matter leaders and their allies focus on defunding the police.

True enough. But why do these disparities exist? A true antiracist would automatically say that police put less effort into solving homicides when minorities are the victims—it’s structural racism. And that may be the case, but of course there are other explanations. In the case of gang-related murders, for instance, people might not want to reveal information about murders lest they themselves become victims. Or blacks and Hispanics might be less forthcoming simply because they don’t trust the police. Regardless, this disparity needs to be addressed and eliminated. The question is—and it’s one Friedersdorf doesn’t even ask—whether increasing police forces will eliminate those disparities, even if they solve more murders. We don’t know the answer to that, either. But surely having more police will lead to solving more murders, and it’s reasonable to assume that since half the homicide victims are black, the disparity, if not due to racist police and detectives, will at least diminish.

Despite the unpopularity of “defund the police” slogan (which goes hand in hands with the odious acronym “ACAB”—”all cops are bastards”), the progressive Left still seems to push it as a “dump the cops” demand. Here’s a bit on that:

. . . many activists are still doubling down on “defund,” whether in municipal budget disputes or interviews with national publications. Legislators on the Democratic Party’s left flank continue to press the idea at the local, state, and federal levels. The merits of defunding are still taken as self-evident in academic writingtweets by prominent organizers, and professional PR campaigns.

On July 20, I received an email from Ronja Kleinholz, an account executive at Berlin Rosen, a large PR agency that, according to its website, has offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, and represents clients including MGM Resorts, the Ford Foundation, Unicef, Singapore Airlines, and Virgin Hyperloop 1. “With continued talks around addressing rising crime rates and increases in gun violence, activists with the Movement for Black Lives are available to talk about why we must refocus the conversation around defunding the police,” she wrote. “While Republicans focus on fearmongering and blaming disinvestment in policing for rising crime rates, statistics show that police don’t prevent nor stop crime—in fact, they often show up after the crime has already occurred.”

That last sentence, if it wasn’t so odious and plain wrong, would be hilarious. Police don’t prevent or stop crime? Has Kleinholz hear what happened during the Montreal Police Strike on October 7, 1969? It lasted only eighteen hours, but here, according to Wikipedia, was the outcome.

“Fires, explosions, assaults and a full-pitched gun-battle kept Montrealers huddled indoors as the reign of terror brought the city to the edge of chaos and resulted in the call for the Army help… Hundreds of looters swept through downtown Montreal last night as the city suffered one of the worst outbreaks of lawlessness in its history. Hotels, banks, stores and restaurants around the Ste-Catherine-Peel Street axis had their windows smashed by rock-tossing youths. Thousands of spectators looked on as looters casually picked goods out of store-front windows.

Sound familiar? Yes, there are morons afoot, one named Kleinholz. As for cops often showing up after the crime has occurred, that just makes me laugh. Of course they do—they have to!

So while I certainly don’t favor slashing police budgets, I’m not quite so sure whether enlarging them will “solve all murders”, or eliminate the disturbing disparities in convictions highlighted by Friedersdorf. But he does make another suggestion I’m on board with. He got the idea from Jill Leovy’s highly praised book Ghettosidebased on her crime reporting for the Los Angeles Times. And here’s the insight:

Ghettoside’s great insight is that a community can be over-policed and under-policed at the same time––and that reformers can advocate for an end to over-policing while also championing the proposition that more police resources are required to solve more violent crimes. Defund the war on drugs. Defund stop-and-frisk. But also, fund the homicide bureau and the processing of rape kits and the community-policing initiatives that help people of all classes to feel as safe in their neighborhoods as wealthy Americans do in theirs.

The absence of policing yields not a safe space where marginalized people thrive, but a nasty, brutish place where violent actors either push people around with impunity or are met with violence by someone who forces them to stop. “When people are stripped of legal protection and placed in desperate straits, they are more, not less, likely to turn on each other,” Leovy wrote. “Lawless settings are terrifying; if people can do whatever they want to each other, there are always enough bullies to make it ugly.”

Even with the help of the best PR firms, “defund the police” has little future as a successful slogan or governing program. And I remain a proponent of many other criminal-justice-reform initiatives, like 8 Can’t Wait, with their data-informed emphasis on best practices for local police departments. But at a moment when fear of violent crime is understandably increasing, especially in cities, it might be that the most urgent argument reform advocates can now make is also a political winner: Stop over-policing, but stop under-policing, too. Stop frisking people for furtive movements or arresting people for having a joint, but start funding homicide bureaus adequately and allocating police resources to prioritize the need to solve every murder. Close racial disparities in clearance rates. Black lives matter, so “Solve All Murders.”

I agree 100%, but what he’s recommending here is not exactly “solve all murders”, but “divert police resources from victimless crimes to homicides”. We’ll never solve all murders, but that would solve more of them. The question remains, though—will racial disparities disappear when more murders are solved?

h/t: Enrico

24 thoughts on “Conor Friedersdorf: “Solve all murders” should replace “Defund the police”

  1. One of the most vociferous defund supporters is Cori Bush, US Congress Representative from St. Louis area.

    As you may know by now, there is a notorious recent video of her saying essentially “private security for me, zippo for thee”. And I just saw this article…..which links to that video.

    “Two St. Louis City sheriff deputies were fired after working security for Congresswoman Cori Bush. Now, one of them is defending himself, saying his firing was unfair.

    Bush was on CBS last week defending her use of private security, saying “I’m gonna make sure I have security because I know I have had attempts on my life and I have too much work to do.”

    Recent federal filings show she’s spent $70,000 in campaign funds since taking office for private security services. Back in April, Bush, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and other notables took a tour of the city’s jails. News 4 obtained surveillance video from the tours and along with all others, two security guards were there to protect Bush: Tylance Jackson and Maurice Thompson. ”

  2. I’ve been watching with interest the response of police & law enforcement to my state’s new police reform laws. In short, the police are now only allowed to respond to active criming. The different departments have been releasing statements to the effect of, “Well, this is what you wanted. Good luck with that.” Mental health crisis? Not the police. Suspicious person (who is not doing anything illegal)? Not the police. And I think I’m okay with this. We’ve the mechanisms in place for referring mental health and health crises to appropriate non-police departments. Now, whether we will adequately fund them is yet to be seen.

    We also passed a law banning open carry at permitted demonstrations that went into effect in May. Yesterday, there was a sizable anti-mask, anti-vax demonstration at the Capitol campus. People were open carrying. One observer called the state patrol and the city police to report. He was told that he should call 911 instead. 911 told him it was still legal to carry – but it is most certainly not. So in a sense, I feel the police are rebelling by abdicating their responsibilities to punish the voters from curtailing their reach.

    All that to say, I don’t know what the answer is.

        1. Sorry, wrote my note before reading that you meant Washington. Had I known that, I would have worded my comment a bit differently.

    1. We have some new policing laws in Washington State but they were not adopted by the people. They were adopted by a legislature controlled by one party whose leadership comes from Defund the Police Land and were signed into law by a governor of the same party. The majority of voters were neither consulted or considered in their decisions. Had those dozen or so laws been adopted through the initiative process, I would join you in discussing law enforcement changes adopted by the people but those in my state were adopted by politicians without any prior consultation with people who depend upon the police for protection. I read one of the laws and the thumb of the Defunders was evident in every provision. It was a joke.

      1. Suzi, I mean this sincerely: why do you think laws about policing should be adopted by initiative rather than by the legislature & governor (but not other laws)? The voters elected both the legislators and the governor, so in what sense was the majority of voters not consulted?

        We don’t do legislation by initiative in my country so I really don’t get this. The initiative process in places like California seems to be warped by money and influence from outside the state (cf. Mormon money from Utah to buy proposition 8 in California). But maybe there are uses for the initiative process that I don’t understand. Thanks.

  3. You wouldn’t, for example, see the article discussed here in either The New Yorker, New York Magazine, or The New York Times.

    Though it seems that the NYT have given a column to John McWhorter. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

    By the way, this, on “systemic racism”, is worth a listen.

  4. “Defund the war on drugs”.

    How is that going to help, when it is the illegality of drugs that causes almost all of the problem? The real question here is how much would crime, violence, and gun violence be reduced if drugs were made legal, and the profit impetus for drug and gang violence disappeared?

    I don’t know what the official figures are for all three issues, but I am pretty sure that the vast majority of gun violence in the US is drug/gang related. I would be shocked to find out that general crime and violence was not similarly-caused. If we want to reduce our policing problems, then we must determine whether a plan to legalize drugs and ensure they are freely and cheaply available is, in fact, an optimal strategy.

    1. In 2019, the last year for which I’ve looked at the records, two-thirds of approximately 35,000 deaths by firearm were suicides. Of the remaining, two-thirds were gang and drug related. That’s roughly 8,000 lives that could be saved by ending the war on drugs. That doesn’t take into consideration the harm due to families being torn apart because fathers are incarcerated for a victimless crime.

  5. “Defund the war on drugs. Defund stop-and-frisk. But also, fund the homicide bureau and the processing of rape kits….”

    This gets to the heart of the problem. Yes, there are some bad cops but the root cause is too many laws against victimless crimes. Legalize drugs and treat addiction as an illness, not a crime. Release everyone incarcerated for possession or sale to adults and expunge their records. Given that minority communities are disproportionately impacted by these arrests and convictions, that would put a lot more fathers back home with their kids, significantly improving their chances of success.

    1. Ah, the sweet sound of sanity. It’s laws and policies, not cops, that are most responsible for disadvantaging minority communities. Put more police in areas with more violent crime, and have them focus on public safety, not victimless “crimes”. Elect prosecutors who will do likewise.

  6. How about “Rename the police”? “Intersectional life savers”, or “Anti-racist peace-workers”, or “Social justice helpers”.

  7. R. Tlaib isn’t seen as serious politician or intellectual by anybody I can think of. She’s just an attention seeking bomb thrower. Her hideous record proves it.

  8. If you know the medicine/science behind the recreational drugs we take, and the legal side, you’ll see the WoD is a hugely horrible counter-productive mistake. But you must understand both. Actually I do. I’ve been researching and writing about the medical side of drugs for decades (my first degree was in psych and pol.) and I was a criminal defense attorney in NYC. I don’t know much about much but I know about THIS.

    Where do I start?… so I won’t.. except to say the “seriousness”/ harm of a drug is directly DISproportionate to the punishments we inflict with our “justice” system. For instance: the most serious charges – psychedelic are almost completely medically harmless and opiates (When used correctly, and not prohibited) are about the safest drugs in our pharmacopeia. This gvt torture is visited upon ALL races, particularly minorities.

    Don’t just judge drugs and their prohibition on anecdotes, you NEED the data.


  9. A couple of observations-
    Firstly, drug laws and victimless crimes. I generally have a philosophy of minding my own business, especially as it pertains to other adults. But it is my suggestion to look long and hard at why drug laws were put in place, and what the results of repealing them might be.
    We all probably agree that some prohibitions have been misguided. The Volstead act as one example. But the assumption now popular that existing laws and customs were mostly put in place to oppress someone relies on faulty logic.
    I suppose there are some functional meth or or fentanyl addicts. Perhaps even casual users. I suspect those are a rarity, and legalization would likely lead to a great many more addicts, who will sacrifice their families and jobs for their addiction, and end up on the streets, supporting their habits through robbery and any other means available.

    The gangs that are fighting on the streets for control of the drug trade are pretty unlikely to become law abiding citizens when drug laws change. They will just move on to the next thing. Selling children for sex, perhaps. Or the sorts of activities that gangs engaged in before drug prohibition laws were passed.
    In Michoacán, Mexico, the avocado trade is now controlled by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

    Also, we seem to be assuming that the founders of the “defund” movement are genuinely trying to make the country a better place, and to improve people’s lives. I don’t think that is the case at all. I do believe that most of the marchers have good intentions, and they do seem to buy the story that thousands of unarmed Black people are shot by cops each year, and that “police don’t prevent nor stop crime”. If you can get someone to believe those things, they are likely to conclude that defunding is an appropriate solution.
    In that respect, the movement is working as planned, and as any reasonable person would expect. Some people are making money, and others seem to be a few steps closer to the revolution they think they want. Also, our opponents abroad see the disruptions and conflict here as likely to allow them to expand their efforts, as China in Taiwan or Islamic fundamentalists in Africa, the Middle East on elsewhere.
    The parents of the little girls shot by Bloods members in Atlanta and Trenton are not benefiting particularly from the defund movement.

    1. Max, you are making some unfounded assumptions: I suppose there are some functional meth or or fentanyl addicts. Perhaps even casual users. I suspect those are a rarity, and legalization would likely lead to a great many more addicts, who will sacrifice their families and jobs for their addiction, and end up on the streets, supporting their habits through robbery and any other means available.

      If we were to legalize drugs and treat addiction as an illness, drugs would be freely available to those who became addicted, thus removing the need for them to “end up on the streets, supporting their habits through robbery and any other means available.” We could not just repeal the drug war legislation without also enacting provisions for treating the addicts.

      You talk about the “defund movement” as though it were something other than a fringe movement. I don’t really see much support for it, except among a few diehards who can’t admit they were wrong. I remember when the phrase was first suggested. The majority of the commenters said it was a terrible idea, but the die hards said, “But, it will get everyone’s attention. Then, we can explain what we really mean”. The rest of us said, “no, that’s not how it works.” Now, when the subject comes up, the die hards’ response is, “why are we still talking about this?” In other words, can’t we just sweep it under the rug?

      1. I concede that my predictions are just that, so I could be very wrong. “drugs would be freely available”. That is an assumption as well. I don’t see them being completely unregulated, any more than alcohol or pot are.
        In most cities, there are street people who spend their time begging, scamming, or even robbing people in order to get together enough cash to buy alcohol, pot, or illegal drugs. Even in our closest town (Pop 700!), some of those appeared when the pot dispensaries opened. I would not have predicted that with pot, but that is the situation here.
        I do suspect that legalizing drugs like meth will lead to increased use, and my limited knowledge leads me to believe that the majority of those addicted will be unlikely to keep their jobs as truck drivers or machinists for very long. Even with counseling.
        My admittedly limited understanding is that drug prohibitions started when opium use increased rapidly. Opium was neither illegal not tremendously expensive at the time, but a significant percentage of users ended up abandoning their lives and livelihoods in order to spend as much time as possible in opium dens.
        Police departments were formed as a response to existing problems, as were drug laws. Neither seem to be perfect solutions, but it is likely that eliminating them will let us all see very quickly why they were needed in the first place.
        I have sat and listened to people apply the same logic to the military. If we got rid of our military, peace would break out all over the world. It is a simplistic sort of logic.

        Defunding the police may be a fringe movement, but it is one that has gained enough momentum that police budgets have been cut dramatically in a lot of places. I have not seen any major cities completely disbanding the police, but there have been cuts enough that we can start to see where it is going to lead us. That is, crime increases, personal safety declines, and people start informal policing.

        My view is that you can either oppose the police, or oppose vigilantism and lynchings. One or the other. A primary function of the police is to protect the accused from the wrath of the victims, so that they can face impartial justice, or as close to it as reality allows.

  10. Unrelated, but can you comment on the Bret Weinstein debacle. Incredibly disappointing. (See Areo if you’re not sure what I’m referring to.)

  11. I can’t find the list I once read of changes to policing which would improve matters for all, not just one ethnic group. But here’s another more focused list that perhaps should be adopted…

    Most cities didn’t have basic, life-saving policies in place. These are the recommended policies:
    * Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
    * Require de-escalation (officers have to communicate with subjects, maintain distance, and otherwise defuse tense situations whenever possible)
    * Require warning before shooting
    * Exhaust all other means before shootings (unsurprisingly, this can reduce police violence by 25%)
    * Duty to intervene (officers must stop other officers from using excessive force, and report incidents)
    * Ban shooting at moving vehicles
    * Require a use-of-force continuum (this limits the weapons or force that can be used depending on the situation)
    * Require comprehensive reporting (every time officers use force or threaten force against someone, they have to report that)

    If some police forces can do it perhaps all should?

    These and other recommendations can be found at .

    1. “Require de-escalation (officers have to communicate with subjects, maintain distance, and otherwise defuse tense situations whenever possible)”

      Do subjects have any duty or obligation to make at least a modest effort to do their part to de-escalate a situation? I trust that that is not expecting too much of them, but possibly it is. I presume that most suspects think highly-enough of themselves that they would take umbrage at such an assessment. (Re: “the bigotry of low expectations.”)

  12. Racial disparities probably won’t entirely disappear if more murders are solved, but they will diminish if solving more murders becomes the top goal. There are more opportunities available to solve more murders in minority communities.

  13. Many good points in the comments. What I’d like to add: Legalizing drugs has to come with free or very cheap drugs for addicts (to stop crime to procure the money for drugs). Also, stop and frisk should not be stopped, it should be stepped up, as it’s a good street shooting prevention measure if its sole purpose is to search for and collect illegal guns (most are illegal in the high-crime-cities). A lot of shootings in the homicide-ridden areas are for trivial reasons and in the heat of the moment. A lot of people are maimed or killed as bystanders. If young aggressive males are prevented from carrying guns everywhere, that will make a lot of difference for street safety. One of the reasons for the homicide increase after BLM protests is probably that casual controls/searches stop.

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