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The competing efforts within the party to shape the narrative surrounding the issue could have far-reaching effects on how Democrats position themselves in the midterm elections. It could also influence their relationship with base voters who will be key to the party’s success in 2022, particularly Black people, Latinos and young Americans.

What’s certain is that the party will have a rich body of research to draw from. Priorities USA, a top liberal super PAC, has surveyed voters on their attitudes about pulling money from police departments as well as racial justice. A coalition of outside groups is working with the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, to examine the effect of the attacks on defunding the police as part of a larger post-mortem of the 2020 election. Black Lives Matter leaders are considering a formal response to moderates’ complaints about the demand.

A recent USA Today/Ipsos poll found that fewer than one in five respondents back efforts to “defund the police,” while 58 percent are against them. Many lawmakers, including the influential Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), have argued that the movement hurt Democratic congressional candidates.

“Let me start off by saying this: The role of an activist is not the same as the role of a politician. That has been true of grassroots campaigns and activists’ campaigns since the beginning of time. It was true during the civil rights movement,” said Guy Cecil, chair of Priorities USA, during a recent briefing with reporters. “Having said that, in the aggregate, when you look at the totality of the election, ‘defund the police’ in the aggregate neither helped nor hurt the cause.”

One analysis by a Democratic consultant, provided exclusively to POLITICO, measured the effectiveness of GOP attack ads on defunding the police. House candidates recently shared the report to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to a person familiar with their communications.

Matthew Weaver, an adviser for battleground Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), said he conducted the study because he wanted to look at it in “a very rigorous and statistical way,” as opposed to via anecdotes, “which is where a lot of the debate seems to be right now.”

His findings: The GOP attack ads accusing Democrats of wanting to strip resources from cops were not any more powerful than other TV spots run by Republicans. On the other hand, Democratic ads that refuted the GOP’s claims that they were looking to defund the police made a difference: Those candidates who aired such spots performed better than President Joe Biden by 1.5 percentage points for every 1,000 gross ratings points — a measure of advertising impact — run.

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The lesson, Weaver said, is that “not addressing certain false allegations explicitly and head-on is a strategic error that many cannot afford to make.” But only a quarter of House Democratic candidates in the most contested races countered the GOP’s blitz on broadcast television, he said.

The DCCC may be part of the reason why. During the 2020 election, some at the committee advised Cartwright not to reply on TV because candidates should “never repeat a negative,” said a person close to the conversations. With the help of a former local police chief who backed him up, Cartwright ultimately shot down the ‘defund’ idea in ads anyway, and he won his competitive district by nearly four points; Biden lost it by more than four.

The DCCC is now under new leadership: New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney became chair after the election. Helen Kalla, a spokesperson for the DCCC, did not respond directly to questions about the discussions with Cartwright or where it stands now on the issue.

As for its preparations for attacks over defunding the police in the future, she said, “We expect that Republicans will continue spreading lies and misinformation about our candidates and their positions, and Democrats will be ready to combat those Republican lies and make clear to voters where they stand.”

Cartwright, an attorney by trade, said that he decided to respond to his opponent’s negative ads because he decided they were a “kill shot — an attack, which if believed by the decision-maker, either a jury or, in politics, the voter, will end your chance of success.” He called Weaver’s analysis “fascinating.”

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Cartwright confirmed that “there were voices at the DCCC who were giving the archetypal ‘when you’re responding, you’re losing’ advice.” But once he explained, for instance, the large number of lawn signs in his district expressing support for police — including in yards without any campaign signs at all — others at the committee supported his efforts to push back.

“Once they got the picture,” Cartwright said, “they were all in.”

Some of Priorities USA’s findings were similar to Weaver’s. During a Zoom briefing with reporters last week, Cecil said the net effect of Republican attack ads over defunding the police was neither negative nor positive.

“Certainly there are people that respond negatively to defund the police. There are people that respond in our surveys — by the way, of all races, all income brackets, that respond negatively to defund the police,” he said. “What’s also true is that the activism and the energy and the attention that was brought to this issue, without a doubt, led to more votes, and more voters coming into the fold for the first time.”

Another item from Priorities USA’s research demonstrates how potent Democrats’ response to this issue and racial justice could be in the midterms: Asked about their decision to go to the polls, 91 percent of new Biden voters said “they wanted someone that would address racism and stand up for racial justice,” said Cecil.

Many activists say they are not arguing for the wholesale elimination of police funding but rather the reallocation of resources.

There is another effort underway that will likely play a major role in influencing the debate around the net political effects of “defund”: a Democratic post-mortem being done with the help of the CBC, CHC, CPC and other caucus groups.

The partnership of centrist and liberal groups examining the impact of the call to remove funding from the police, along with other hot-button issues such as socialism and the Green New Deal, includes Third Way, Collective PAC, Latino Victory Fund and End Citizens United. No conclusions from the report have been made yet, and it will be finished around the end of May, said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way.

Given the fact that the study is being aided by both moderates and progressives, as well as powerful institutional players such as the CBC, its findings could go in multiple directions — and will likely have a big impact.

At the same time, Black Lives Matter activists are discussing the possibility of holding a press conference or making some other kind of formal response to moderates’ claims, said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and a leader in the Movement for Black Lives coalition. They considered the option last year but deprioritized it because they were busy in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the election as well as the insurrection at the Capitol, he said.

“I do think that there is a conversation that needs to happen that puts Democrats on notice around what our movement would consider harmful to our efforts in their efforts to push back on these attacks,” he said. “If they buttress themselves with law enforcement validators and tried to prove that they were more law-and-order than Republicans, then what you’re doing is you’re ceding and you’re re-ascribing these far-right myths that make it harder for Democrats and harder for people in general to be able to critique and challenge what is by most measures a failing criminal legal system.”


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Black Lives Matter thought they had Washington’s ear. Now they feel shut out.

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Now, leading Black activists say those issues aren’t getting the hearing they deserve.

“It was grassroots and base building organizations that put our issues at the forefront. That’s who delivered this win to the administration,” said Amara Enyia, policy director for the Movement for Black Lives. “At minimum, those folks should be given an audience.”

Part of the disconnect may be the cultural gap between activists — for whom justice is an absolute, but attainable ideal — and politicians, who deal with the messy realities of governing, forging compromise, and accepting incremental wins. Many BLM leaders, for instance, pushed to “defund” city police departments, only to find little appetite among lawmakers for what was widely seen as a politically suicidal position.

On Sunday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) signaled that he was willing to water down qualified immunity, which currently shields officers from civil liability for misdeeds, in order to pass some sort of policing reform legislation.

“Well, I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn told CNN. “I just won’t do that. … Sometimes you have to compromise.”

So while, at the outset of the new Congress, movement leaders stressed they wanted to play a role in enacting policy change, and insisted they weren’t interested in empty rhetoric or piecemeal reforms, they’re now reassessing that approach as frustration sets in.

Now, where there was once more momentum behind the push for sweeping systemic change, bureaucratic policy hurdles and political calculations have pushed activists with the Movement for Black Lives back to the sidelines.

While this has forced activists to refocus their efforts, they maintain that their organizing is multi-dimensional. And they’ve amassed a sizable war chest. The Black Lives Matter Global Network, armed with more than $90 million in fundraising following last summer’s protests, has channeled those funds into initiatives and campaigns. One, launched in February, targets police unions and police budgets–efforts that have the most heft at state and local levels.

They’ve also used that funding to publicize their assessment of Joe Biden’s performance as he passed the 100-day mark. A recent advertisement paid for by the Black Lives Matter Global Network, criticized the administration’s handling of police reform. The ad, which aired in Washington, D.C., for a limited time, specifically condemns what they see as Biden’s lack of action on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement.

“We are the people who elected Biden,” the ad says. “It’s time he started acting like it.”

When asked for comment, a White House official did not specify where talks with movement leaders stand. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly explain the administration’s stance, said there is an “open and ongoing dialogue” between senior White House officials and leaders of the movement as well as with legacy civil rights organizations.

Movement leaders also met with members of Congress early in the planning stages for the Justice in Policing Act last summer and asked for a platform to outline the BREATHE Act, several activists said. However, even those they view as allies on the Hill — including Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is spearheading police reform discussions — were unwilling to diverge from the bill’s core tenets.

As members of Congress continue to hash out a bill to pass with enough Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, activists say they have not been included in any of those discussions.

Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and one of the movement’s first lead organizers, said movement leaders have not abandoned their national advocacy work.

She pointed to a number of allies in Congress like Bass with whom she and other leaders have had “critical conversations” in the past about the movement’s role in policymaking.

“One of the things we’re looking at moving forward is having a better relationship [with lawmakers],” Abdullah said. “So rather than lawmakers making laws without the input of a movement that gives traction to them, we want to do a better job of coordinating on the front end.”

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But complicating things is the fact that movement leaders stand vehemently against the Justice in Policing Act, which Congress drafted as a response to their protests. They argue that instead of holding officers accountable, the bill — which passed the House in March — actually gives more funds to law enforcement. Moreover, activists say, police de-escalation training, universal body cameras and data to track use of force, all provisions of the Justice in Policing Act, don’t go far enough.

The bill “requires that police be the fixers of their own problems,” said Karissa Lewis, national field director for the Movement for Black Lives. “And we know that that just has not been a successful strategy.”

Still, the Movement for Black Lives has come out in favor of some national policies that have implications for the work they do on the state level. Activists point to both the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as critical to their work. If passed, the bills would curb a number of the provisions in state laws that limit access to the ballot.

Organizers said they were happy to hear Senate Majority Leader ´ say that he would like to pass a major voting rights bill by August, though it’s not clear how he would do so without reforming Senate rules.

And there are activists who are continuing their work locally. A national platform, they say, was never one of their chief goals. Following an unsuccessful effort to reallocate police funds in Minneapolis last summer, activists there say they’re doubling down on their push for more comprehensive public safety plans that give community members more power.

“We know the history of the failure, where we’re expecting [police] to reform themselves,” said D.A. Bullock, a lead organizer with the Minneapolis-based group Reclaim the Block. “We know that’s not possible. We’re looking to a more fundamental change in the way we do public safety.”

Nor do they see Derek Chauvin’s conviction as the final chapter following last year’s organizing against police violence and systemic racism under the umbrella of a “racial reckoning.”

“People are still asking this question of, ‘is anything coming?’ Yes, it’s coming. It’s happening on the local and state level,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and lead organizer with the Movement for Black Lives.

Still, Mitchell added that he and other lead organizers feel they are “duty bound to ensure that [police reform] happens on the federal level.”

Mitchell called for Biden to issue more executive orders and make full use of the bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act quickly on criminal justice reform as discussions around the Justice in Policing Act seem unlikely to conclude in time for Biden’s May 25 consensus deadline.

Federal legislation, activists argue, should address the root causes of the issue: A system of law enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color. And that means they’ll continue to push for a public safety overhaul — and lobby those members of Congress willing to hear them out.

“We’re not interested in easy solutions, and we’re not interested in nibbling around the edges,” Mitchell said. “This is an urgent and real crisis for us.”


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Palestinians, Israel trade new rocket fire and airstrikes

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In recent weeks, tension has been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in east Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.

One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in an east Jerusalem neighborhood by Israeli settlers.

Monday was a long day of anger and deadly violence, laying bare Jerusalem’s deep divisions, even as Israel tried to celebrate its capture of the city’s eastern sector and its sensitive holy sites more than half a century ago. With dozens of rockets flying into Israel throughout the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials and warned that the fighting could drag on, despite calls for calm from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, fired dozens of rockets Monday evening, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. The barrage came after Hamas had given Israel a deadline to withdraw forces from the Al-Aqsa compound.

By Tuesday morning, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired more than 200 rockets. That included a barrage of six rockets that targeted Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. It set off air raid sirens throughout Jerusalem, and explosions could be heard in what was believed to be the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war.

There appeared to be some first signs of de-escalation in Jerusalem early Tuesday. Palestinian worshippers performed the dawn prayer at the mosque without confrontations as Israel apparently limited the presence of its police officers around the compound. Amateur videos showed dozens of faithful marching to the mosque and chanting “we sacrifice our blood, soul for Al-Aqsa.”

In Gaza, an Israeli drone strike killed a man in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis early Tuesday, according to local media reports. In another strike, a woman and two men were killed when a missile struck the upper floors of an apartment building in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, according to Gaza Health Ministry and rescue services.

Hamas’ armed wing said it intensified the rocket barrages following the airstrike on the house.

The Israeli military said it had carried out dozens of airstrikes across Gaza overnight, targeting what it said were Hamas military installations and operatives. It said a Hamas tunnel, rocket launchers and at least eight militants had been hit.

Dozens of rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But one landed near a home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, causing light damage to the structure and sparking a brush fire nearby. In southern Israel, an Israeli man was lightly wounded after a missile struck a vehicle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem.”

He said fighting could continue for some time and that “”whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could “continue for some time.”

Gaza health officials gave no further breakdowns on the casualties. At least 15 of the 22 deaths in Gaza were attributed to the airstrikes. Seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in a mysterious explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket. More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.

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In a statement issued early Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stops “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.

In Monday’s unrest, Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians at the compound.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

Over 600 Palestinians were hurt in Jerusalem alone, including more than 400 who required care at hospitals and clinics, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Palestinians and police reported renewed clashes late Monday. Israeli police also reported unrest in northern Israel, where Arab protesters burned tires and threw stones and fireworks at security forces. Police said 46 people were arrested.

Monday’s confrontations came after weeks of almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The month tends to be a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned “in the strongest terms” the rocket fire on Israel and called on all sides to calm the situation.

“More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem,” he said. He said the U.S. would remain “fully engaged” and praised steps by Israel to cool things down, including the court delay in the eviction case.

In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by thousands of flag-waving nationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day.

The annual festival is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. But it is widely seen as a provocation because the route goes through the heart of Palestinian areas.


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Vatican warns U.S. bishops about rebuking Biden, other Catholic pols

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Ladaria, in his letter, said any new policy “requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Even then, Ladaria advised, the bishops should seek unanimous support within their ranks for any national policy, lest it become “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

Ladaria made several other points that could complicate the plans of bishops pressing for tough action:

— He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics in regard to their worthiness to receive Communion.

— He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as “the preeminent” moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document “were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”

— He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops’ conferences in other countries “both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”

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— He said any new policy could not override the authority of individual bishops to make decisions on who can receive Communion in their dioceses. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.

Among the leaders of the campaign to rebuke Biden is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who recently issued a pastoral letter arguing that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not receive Communion. A few days later, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego published an essay saying such an initiative “will bring tremendously destructive consequences.”

Ladaria’s letter was dated May 7. It was first reported Monday by Catholic News Service and the Jesuit magazine America.


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