If a city needs help policing itself, the last thing the federal government should be doing is depriving that city of funds necessary to do just that.
And using arbitrary labels to justify a withdrawal of funding serves no purpose other than to politicize an issue that needs a nonpolitical solution.
Last week, the Trump administration identified three major cities in the country that have been the sites of massive public protests — New York City; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle — as “anarchist cities” to justify withholding federal aid.
First, the term “anarchist cities” is as politically charged as it is inaccurate, arbitrary and arguably racist.
The Trump administration uses it to define cities run by Democratic administrations (even though some states and cities with equal challenges are run by Republicans) and to target cities with large minority populations where citizens are standing up against racial discrimination and police brutality.
New York City is in no state of anarchy, even with large numbers of protesters in the streets at times. Go there today and see for yourself. And many of the protests in these cities have been confined to small, easily defined areas that appear on the TV news to encompass the entire city.
Crowd disbursement techniques such as tear gas used by police in riot gear further promote the perception of anarchy.
It’s true some of these peaceful protests have gotten out of hand when infected by looters and vandals, or when police weren’t used effectively or appeared to be overwhelmed by the crowds and responded with force.
But none of these cities could be legitimately identified as being in a state “anarchy,” which is defined by the dictionary as “a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.”
While there are elements of that definition in all places where police have clashed with protesters, it’s not what’s happening in any of these cities on a widespread or permanent basis.
In justifying the designation, the federal government listed several criteria, including forbidding “the police force from intervening to restore order amid widespread or sustained violence or destruction,” refusing to accept federal law enforcement assistance and seeking to disempower or defund police.
But under the U.S. Constitution, general law enforcement is not defined as a specific duty of the federal government, and therefore is a state obligation. The federal government is limited in how it can command governors and mayors to enforce the law, including in deciding whether they should ask for the help of federal troops to assist state and local police in quelling violent protests.
The anarchy designation also unfairly targets these three particular cities.
New York City, Portland and Seattle aren’t the only cities in the country where there have been protests this year, largely related to people being upset over police brutality or racial discrimination in general.
Minneapolis, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and most recently Louisville, Kentucky, have seen protests that have sometimes gotten out of hand. Would these cities, too, be subject to an anarchy designation if protests become too violent or widespread?
Again, it comes down to politics.
“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” Attorney General William Barr said.
Exactly how are federal tax dollars being wasted? And what funds are they even talking about withholding?
State and local taxes largely fund law enforcement, with federal tax dollars targeted for purposes such as infrastructure, mass transit and social programs.
Does it make sense for the federal government to withhold federal funds for those needs, forcing the cities to reallocate funds away from law enforcement to those programs in order to make up for the loss in federal aid?
How would that action help the cities combat crime and manage large protests?
If the federal government feels cities aren’t doing enough to police themselves, it should invest more federal dollars into personnel and equipment, not less. It should offer more grants for law enforcement and assist with collection of intelligence and data.
Let the cities tell the federal government what they need to manage the problem, and then offer to help them meet those needs without punishing them if they decline the help.
Cutting funding will only make it more difficult for cities to manage violence.
If you’re looking at crime rates to determine whether a city is in a state of anarchy, again, the numbers don’t justify the specific designations.
Based on FBI crime statistics, of the 10 most dangerous metro areas in the country in 2020, none among them are the three designated as anarchist cities.
The top 10, according to SafeWise.com., are Anchorage (Alaska), Albuquerque (New Mexico), Memphis (Tennessee), Wichita (Kansas), Lubbock (Texas), Detroit-Dearborn-Livonia (Michigan), Spokane-Spokane Valley (Washington), Shreveport-Bossier City (Louisiana) Corpus Christi (Texas) and Mobile (Alabama).
Of course, they don’t make front-page news on a regular basis, nor does targeting them with this designation and a threat to withhold federal aid help the Trump administration.
The Trump administration tried a similar ploy with so-called “sanctuary cities,” which are cities that made official declarations not to use their police to help federal authorities enforce federal immigration laws.
Back at the beginning of his administration, President Trump threatened to withhold federal aid from such cities, an effort he renewed this spring by threatening to withhold aid to assist cities in the fight against the coronavirus.
Federal aid should be tied to one thing: need. And that aid should include addressing the root causes of the violence, such as poverty, discrimination, the criminal justice system and the proliferation of guns in cities.
While politics certainly plays a role in the distribution of federal assistance, the granting or withholding of aid shouldn’t be used as a hammer to punish cities that don’t conform to a particular approach favored by one governmental administration.
Cities experiencing problems with violence and racial discrimination need help from the federal government. Not labels. And not threats.