What Deval Patrick had to say about ‘Defund the Police’

In an essay, the former Massachusetts governor supported a wider effort to "re-fund our communities."

Deval Patrick speaking at a forum in New Hampshire in Feb. 2020.
Deval Patrick speaking at a forum in New Hampshire in Feb. 2020. –Andrew Harnik / AP

Amid ongoing protests against racial injustice in recent weeks, calls for the defunding of police departments have grown louder.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recently outlined his own view of the matter in an essay titled, “Re-Fund Our Communities.”

Patrick, who was elected as Massachusetts’ first Black governor in 2006 (serving in the role until 2015), admitted his initial skepticism towards calls for defunding the police.

“Taken literally, that demand is jarring, especially to those in or seeking public office,” Patrick wrote.

“But as I kept listening, I began to hear more than the literal meaning,” he added. “I hear activists inviting America to reconsider not just what limits there should be on police tactics, but what the scope of policing itself should be.”


Patrick referenced a wider conversation around what “Defund the Police” actually means. Those who advocate for police reform have put forward concepts like “8 Can’t Wait,” an effort to curb police brutality through a series of new police rules and limitations.

Other activists see reform as not enough. The “8 to Abolition” campaign aims to eventually abolish the police as part of wider societal changes that includes providing universal housing and re-funding community organizations.

Patrick’s own recommendation includes re-investing in and stabilizing local communities.

“Without re-funding our communities,” Patrick wrote, “we will continue to find ourselves asking police to do work they are not equipped to do. And we will never be safe.”

It’s a concept he says he learned growing up in Chicago.

“There were many things we did not have and much of what we did have was broken,” Patrick wrote of his youth. “But we had a community.”

In his estimation, Patrick believes the erosion of communities has been led by a pervasive political force in the last several decades.

“The narrative that ‘government is the problem,’ used to justify deeper and deeper tax cuts and trickle-down economics, has come home to roost,” said Patrick. “Cuts to public education, jobs training programs and college affordability have limited the ability of families to lift themselves out of poverty.


“Indeed the association of poverty with the unrelated concept of fault has led to devastating limits on food, housing and other forms of assistance,” Patrick wrote. “Mental health services and programs to address substance abuse have remained limited and uneven, despite opioid addiction and anxiety disorders reaching epidemic proportions.”

As government institutions are cut, Patrick thinks that police have been called upon to cover tasks that expand well beyond their original institutional purpose. He cited former Dallas police chief David Brown, who noted in 2016 that, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country.”

And while Patrick, a Democrat, blames Republicans for the continual cuts to institutions, he placed blame on his own party as well.

“For much of these last 40 years, while we came to expect the worst of Republicans, we also came to expect the minimum from Democrats,” wrote Patrick. “Income inequality in the United States has been getting worse almost continuously since the 1970s. Welfare reform under Bill Clinton was needlessly harsh. Americans from across the political spectrum have been stuck in a zero-sum-game loop, as if justice were in limited supply, so to increase your portion means necessarily to reduce mine.”

President Donald Trump is the natural end-product of selfish politics, in Patrick’s view.

“We’ve taken it to new lows since 2016 by electing and enabling the most self-centered president in American history,” he said of Trump.

Earlier in 2020, Patrick endorsed Democrat Joe Biden for president, having ended his own 2020 campaign in February.

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