The defund the police movement has the cart before the horse.

In recent months, there have been calls throughout the country to “defund the police” at the local level. What “defund” actually means depends on whom you ask. Proposals range from merely shifting resources to other public programs to eliminating the police force entirely.

Regardless, it is unsettling that so much political pressure has mounted on local police when hardly a word has been said about federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, CIA, NSA, and others that have for decades trampled civil liberties both here and abroad.

Also left out of the discussion is the fact that every federal agency, including the Department of Education, has its own SWAT team or an armed division to enforce its will. And it was federal officers that Trump used in recent weeks after making hyperbolic remarks about deploying the military. The presence of federal officers on the streets of Portland and Seattle has drawn protests from the “defund the police” crowd, but they either ignore or fail to grasp the irony.

When you defund local police and keep the central government’s unconstitutional powers intact, laws will continue to be enforced from the top down, either through federal officers as in the U.S. or the military, as is done in other countries. What we’re witnessing today in Portland and Seattle is what “defund the police” looks like when you fail to defund the feds who are an even greater problem.

Many on the right have defended the use of federal agents in Portland. This is politically myopic. They can’t see beyond the current administration and the precedent being set. Those federal officers could just as easily be deployed in rural states – as was done at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho – just as surely as they can be deployed in progressive cities. And those who oppose federal officers in their cities don’t seem to take the concept to its logical conclusion. Where is the call to eliminate or reduce the 100-mile border zone range that allows Border Patrol the ability to enforce their powers deep within many states?

The idea ostensibly behind defunding the police is to curb the excessive powers they wield and to direct money toward more appropriate programs that address the root causes of crime. Regardless of the intent, the actual result would be to leave the feds as the sole law enforcers. Not only would the feds have no local resistance to their will, but ordinary citizens would be at the mercy of the feds if they want legitimate laws enforced.

Financially and legally hamstringing local law enforcement alone is putting the cart before the horse. State-level efforts instead should focus on delinking local cops from federal funding and at the same time make it harder for the feds to operate in their jurisdiction, regardless of who holds the White House. Federal agencies should also have their legal wings clipped.

Federalism is about having strong local control and a less powerful central authority. Intentional or not, the defunding of the police crowd has its priorities backward, reflecting the “context-sensitive” approach Americans have taken to constitutionalism.

TJ Martinell

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