Analyzing an article in The Atlantic, “What Defund the Police Actually Means” by Annie Lowrey

I have never sat down to do anything like this before, but while I have always known the media distorts the truth in order to promote a narrative of their choosing, I didn’t understand how blatantly journalists could do this.

On June 5, 2020, I posted on Facebook a comment that anyone calling to “defund the police” was speaking sedition.  I can’t remember what I saw that triggered that post but obviously I read something somewhere.  It’s a blunt and inflammatory slogan aimed at provoking a reaction and I jumped on it.

Someone replied that it wasn’t about literally doing that but rather diverting some police funds into social programs that improve the minority communities worst affected by harsh policing and would restore relations between police and those communities. The goal was to reduce the burden of policing in these areas overall which would offset the police department’s reduced budget. She provided a few links to educate me. The sources were Rolling Stone, Vox, CityLab and The Atlantic. The first 3 were fine, but when I read The Atlantic article, something bugged me about it and so I decided to go through it in more detail.

What I discovered was a lot of deliberate twisting, distortion and a couple of outright deceptions. Once I figured out what Lowrey had done, it was clear that her use of stats and comparisons to support her argument was very weak and didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

I wrote up this in a Facebook post, but it’s very hard to read in that format so I decided to make a blog post. I actually made this blog in 2015 and it was going to be about gardening.  I made 3 posts then life got too busy and I quit. The domain name kept on automatically renewing… as I forgot to cancel it! Well here we are 5 years later and I’m writing a blog post not about gardening but about a shabby piece of journalism.

It matters to me that the information we receive is the truth – or the best version of the truth that can be found at the time of writing and corrected and updated as necessary.  Alas, this is not what the media does these days. They have their own agenda and they are more interested in selling us a narrative. Now this is an opinion piece, so Ms Lowrey selling us a particular view about a topic. But in order for us to trust her opinion is even worth considering she must not be deceitful and manipulate the reader.  As a journalist she has an ethical duty to not hide the truth and manipulate the reader. I think this article would fall under the category of propaganda.

I’m not an economist, nor do I understand how City budgets are put together exactly, nor am I  knowledgeable of law and order matters. Nor am I a social worker. I’m not even a researcher.  I just felt led to do this… even though I have plenty of other things to do and in my spare time  (I am trying to learn how to play Irish music on the concertina)… but time is always short and we choose what takes our attention and what we put our energy into.  I’m not a statistician either and math was my weakest subject at school, so if I am in error about something math related, please correct me.

My overall comment about the slogan “Defund the Police” is that the naming is deliberate. Yes it is immediately provoking and makes people bite: What? That’s crazy? No police? I took the bait. It was meant to grab your attention in the sea of social media chatter.

After we are provoked by the slogan, we are then told not to overreact and that it’s just about reallocating funds from the police budget for some social programs that will help the minority communities that are hardest hit by harsh policing policies. The average person who only scans headlines and maybe reads half the article will think, “Oh ok, sounds reasonable, I guess”.

The phrase seems to have only started being used on Twitter in April and May – slowly building up to where we are now. Google has about 4.5 million results. It’s not a brand new idea of course, its been around a few years (the FB friend who sent me the links said 2007).  The untimely and wrongful death of George Floyd, the protests and associated civil unrest that is happening right now across America is obviously the perfect time to push this idea and give it enough momentum to influence the public. You see the idea is to motivate communities to participate in the budget making decisions of the local cities and demand their city do more for the poorer communities by implementing social programs. 

Now while the main push is reallocation of police budgets – some activists would ultimately like to abolish police. for eg Sociology Professor Alex Vitale.  Abolishing police seems to really mean fewer police in certain areas.  It’s another provocative name designed to shock a person. I am dubious that would work out in the way Prof. Vitale thinks it will, but as I haven’t read his book I can’t comment further.

Reading various articles and then going to the activist websites and reading their blurb, the overall theme I get is that the reallocation of funding from police department to community projects is seen as a form of correction – a way to punish the police department by taking away their funding because they’ve been harassing and harming minority communities. The argument is always that there is SOOOOOO much funding going to the police compared to other services like parks, transportation, health, etc that it’s just not fair that these services don’t get the same level of funding. The justification is that if new programs could help people in their day to day lives, it would make the police jobs easier in the long run and restore trust between police and these communities.  So the cuts to police departments would be ok in the end as the police would have less policing to do in these communities. This a pretty simple explanation but the basic idea. Kinda it will all work out in the wash…

One obvious thing that struck me was that the reallocation of funds for various programs could come from any part of the city budget. A city could skim off $$ from all sorts of areas and keep the policing budget pretty much intact. This approach never seems to occur to the activists. There is a specific need to specifically focus on the police department budget and reduce it. Almost as if the activists want to punish the police department and make it do penance…..

First news mention of the slogan “defund the police” was some protesters in Seattle outside a police station on 4/16/20. Then suddenly we have celebrities on 6/3/20 making a big announcement – and it’s the usuals ones who promote causes – including John Legend, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda. It has been promoted by Rashida Tlaib, so you know this idea is coming from the more left side of the Democrat party, the Squad girls and Bernie.

I expect Ben & Jerry’s Icecream to add this new flavour to their menu of progressive causes they support any day now.

The activist groups pushing for this are various small ones plus some big ones such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – that’s a big one from the civil rights movement era so their endorsement obviously lends credibility. A report called “Freedom to Thrive: Re-imagining Safety and Security in Our Communities,” on this idea and how it could be applied is the main basis for any news stories. The report can be found at the Center for Popular Democracy. If you want to look at the report for yourself you can find the link on this page. About 2/3rds way down the page is a hyperlink to the report which is a PDF.  If there is an easier to find, more obvious link I couldn’t see it.  I don’t know why you’d bury the link to the report you’re trying to get people to take an interest in and make it difficult to find – but it’s not my website.

These guys organized a protest at Capitol Hill during the impeachment hearings back in January. And as you’ve made it this far, I have some performance art for you to enjoy. Gosh January seems like another century doesn’t it? So much has happened.

Now onto the article:

First paragraph. I have a problem with the “egregious unprovoked acts of police violence at the peaceful protests”. We know there have been peaceful protests. We also know that bad actors have turned the peaceful protests into an orgy of looting and rioting. As of June 5, the date this article was published we knew that 15 people had died. Annie Lowrey failed to acknowledge these deaths, so she’s lost some moral virtue there already. She is either refusing to acknowledge the looting and riots, pretending they didn’t happen, or else she’s lumping those in with the peaceful protests – which is a massive insult to those who wanted to protest legally and peacefully.  And even though this is really heartbreaking, I’m linking to this poor girl crying for her sister shot at one of the protests in Iowa. Annie Lawrey does not “see” this girl because admitting there were riots doesn’t fit her narrative of peaceful protesters vs police violence.

The last sentence makes zero sense. If the budget for services to help people is as equally extreme as the budget for law and order and military hardware, then no-one should be starving should they?

The premise of this article is that the US spends a lot of money on law and order and the military and not enough on programs that help people – it is too punitive in the approach to improving people’s lives. She jumps between local and Federal governments, which gets confusing, but I think it’s to make us wonder that the entire spending decisions made by all US government at Federal, State and Local levels could do with a thorough overhaul. She tries to argue that all the spending in the areas of law and order hasn’t done that much to improve communities, when compared to other countries. She spends a lot of time comparing the US to other countries. This is why she has to use a lot of Federal budget stats – otherwise it she’d be forced to compare the budgets of the City of Dallas vs the City of Antwerp. Comparisons at this level don’t sound as convincing or as impressive when comparing an entire country with another country do they?

And she doesn’t provide context or explanation for why there are differences. Such as countries such as France or Sweden spend a lot more on their welfare programs and they have a much higher tax rate to accomplish that. She mentions US spends 0.6 GDP on benefits for families with children, 1/6th of what Sweden spends. Well these kind of benefits are income tested. Does Sweden have the same criteria? There is no accounting for private sector or charity assistance either.

Lowrey has tried to support her argument that this cause is a good idea by using lots of statistics. Lots of statistics and comparisons with other countries. eg Why can’t the US do things like country X ? There are so many stats that it will bamboozle the average reader who is scanning the article and doesn’t stop to click every link she provides to her sources. And this is the problem. Honestly do you click on every single link in a news story? No of course not. So she gets away with a lot of tricky stuff.

Now this is the really shady bit. This paragraph right here. Firstly making the point about military funding is a diversion. We’re talking about defunding police dept funding in US cities – the budget for the military is a federal thing and NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS.  It’s just trying to make you think US only wants to fund nasty war stuff. Nice caring Europe doesn’t spend nearly as much on nasty military stuff. Do you remember when Trump was newly elected and he went to visit NATO and all the leaders of the EU countries, Macron, Merkel etc looked very gloomy and uncomfortable because Trump asked them to cough up and pay their fair share into NATO. I remember that. Those EU countries can afford quite generous welfare programs cos the US is picking up the tab for NATO.

The comparison to “peer nations” is odd. Why would you compare Singapore to the US? And what is a domestic public safety program? Well it could include stuff like disaster preparedness and relief, terrorism measures, gun control measures, general public safety measures, domestic violence awareness… So when she tells you that the US spends more on public safety programs, than say random country Singapore she trying to make you think it’s a bad thing. Especially because in the previous sentence she just told you the US spends twice as much on military funding than Europe which to her is bad. She never defined what a domestic public safety program is. If you don’t look it up you will never realise IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT and just think the US is wasting its $ on nasty military industrial complex stuff.

So focusing on the last sentence of this paragraph;

Now Massachusetts and Turkmenistan…. when you think of Massachusetts does it always remind you of Turkmenistan? Nah, me neither. So what’s up with that? So imagine Massachusetts is a country and compare it’s incarceration figures to … random country Turkmenistan. Ok. A straight comparison. Got it.

In 2017 Turkmenistan incarcerated 30,452 ppl. Or 528.86 ppl per 100,000.
On the other hand, Massachusetts in 2017 incarcerated 8,692 ppl, or 126 ppl per 100,000. THAT’S NOT WHAT SHE SAID!
It’s a tricky sentence… If the state with the lowest incarceration rate, Massachusetts, were its own country, it would imprison more people than all but nine other nations, among them Turkmenistan. What’s that mean? The link is to this site. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2018.html
The blurb tries to tell you that the US has way way more ppl in jail than the rest of the world.
It does look impressively scary. If you click on the link it’s like a huge inverted triangle.
So Massachussets is at the bottom. The other 9 countries that have higher incarceration rates are marked. Underneath Massachusets are the rest of the world. The rates are per 100,000. It looks very impressive.
But it makes NO SENSE when I look at the other sources I found – so what is going on? If you dig a bit you’ll find an explanation for how they calculate their data.
And here is their explanation. Because this is an advocacy site they count every single type of detention they can think of. Psychiatric, juvenile, sex offender, etc. So this includes people who were detained and released without charge too I suppose. The numbers have been inflated.
If you inflate the numbers this way and then try to compare to other countries – it’s being deceitful. It’s a fake comparison. How can you say it’s a valid comparison to other countries? You would have to collect similar data from those countries. This is so shady to deliberately skew the figures in this way.
The deception continues in the next paragraph.
She asks: Did all that spending on domestic safety programs make the US safer than its peer? No! Cos as violent crime has reduced – markedly – various crimes compared to other countries are much higher.
Ok, but reducing violent crime rates is a very good thing and spending in domestic safety programs is a very good thing. And the link about the violent crimes also tells you that other property crime rates fell and the drops are big too. So she’s doing the sour grapes thing. Yeah the crime rates dropped but other countries are better.
See how big the drop in crime rates is:
She grumbles about how US murder rates are higher than the average of other countries but doesn’t point out that Mexico is way ahead – more than 3 times higher – 18.1 cases per 100,000 as compared to 5 cases per 100,000 for US.
Comparing robbery rates in Poland to the US is a weird comparison. She says : Robberies are more than twice as common as they are in Poland. In the US there’s 133 robberies per 100,000. Poland has 50 cases per 100,000. But she skips over the much higher stats for Belgium and Spain.
So the comparison of shootings to other countries via a Guardian story is also odd. Well it’s the Guardian. My reaction is well the UK doesn’t have guns – even the police don’t have guns. So no wonder the shooting rates are so low. And comparing only England and Wales is odd. What about Scotland and Northern Ireland? The 24 year period of very little shooting in England and Wales was from 1990 to 2014. The “troubles” was still going on in Northern Ireland in the early 90s. This was the IRA – shootings and bombings etc,  targeting civilians and English soldiers. So perhaps that’s why the Guardian left out Northern Ireland. What England does have a lot of though – is increasing knife crime rates.
And I have to ask is it even a fair comparison to compare an entire country (USA) with part of a country? Surely it needs to be USA to the UK.
The next paragraph is grumbling about all this money going on the military and the prison system and not on things like food stamps. This is the strangest thing – she thinks more people on food stamps is a good thing because it’s proof you’re spending more money on welfare programs. I would argue that more people on food stamps is a bad thing because it means not enough people are working.
Notice she is talking about federal spending – and proposed packages – all at federal level. I don’t know what this has to do with city police departments. She’s trying to make you think the way governments allocate money is all skewed and everything should be overhauled. Please note the overreaching proposal of Big Brother to create a universal prekindergarten program. Why the Fed government needs to create a prekindergarten program (daycare) is beyond me. Unless it’s to start the indoctrination at a young age. Fed government doesn’t need to dictate what toddlers get to do in daycare. Each daycare center can decide itself. It’s such a chilling idea – the State involved in every aspect of your life and that of your child.
Then she’s back at the state level. There’s some fudging going on here.
She’s trying to claim that not only do cities spend too much on policing but that other sources of revenues are gathered up too – fines, fees and forfeitures – which encourage harassment and overpolicing, especially in minority neighbourhoods. She mentions that this revenue raising tactic was used in Ferguson, Missouri to plug budget holes. THIS MAKES NO SENSE.  If Ferguson police dept relied on those harassment revenue raising tactics to meet it’s budget, then DEFUNDING would make the situation worse! I agree that the revenue raising tactics are counterproductive – but they’re done to plug budgets. Reallocating wouldn’t help this.
The mention of forfeitures is BARELY mentioned. It’s quite a problem. These defund the police articles never address the problem of forfeitures. If the police dept defunded – ie reallocated funding into special programs, then the motivation to CONTINUE and INCREASE forfeitures would be very high.
Oh and recently in Arizona, the local Democrat city voted AGAINST ending forfeitures because it was such a good source of extra revenue. 
Lots of articles here about the problem of forfeitures. How it encourages corruption. The injustice of the victims who have to sue the city to get their assets back. I can’t imagine how much worse it would get with this Defunding program. I can just see a City getting great PR about the new programs knowing it can get the shortfall money back via forfeitures. What a win-win.
So in this paragraph she skates over the activists who want to abolish the police. The link takes you to a site that’s very steep in the social justice warrior language. (The people are heavily indoctrinated.) So notice she doesn’t come out herself and say that such an idea – the abolition of police is unworkable. Nah she skates over it. By not saying it was an unworkable idea she has undermined her argument. If you want to make sure everyone believes your suggestions are reasonable then you have to make sure you denounce the crazy idea.  I do think mental health professionals and social workers could be involved a lot more though.
The closing paragraph is what I call emotional blather. Images of events this week are designed to reinforce certain emotions and you will finish the article feeling outraged and anxious. Cops in riot gear? Well what do you expect them to wear – hawaiian shirts and flip flops? Yes, that’s a flippant response but she’s focusing on the peaceful protesters  – while I remember vividly were the looters and rioters. Teargassing teenagers? Nice alliteration but the crowds were a variety of ages. This people are 32 and 31 years old – and they were not peacefully protesting, they were throwing molotov cocktails at police vehicles.  Among the peaceful protesters, there was a range of ages, children to adults.
Humvees patrolled near the White House! How sinister!! It’s a police state! She must freak out when she sees a Humvee stretch limo.
Even the reference to the reuseable masks is pathetic. The shortage of masks – well we all know – the pandemic – the supply chain shortage etc. I do remember in one of the daily WH briefings in April Trump saying a way to sterilize masks for reuse had been found. I thought recycling was good, no? And the shortages of masks were also caused by globalisation – where the factories go off shore because its cheaper. Manufacturing needs to return to this country …and the VA dept and hospitals should show a little more loyalty to this country and contract to companies like this guy
I’m still picking apart that last paragraph. It’s so awfully indignant.
“This is not serving. This is not protecting.”
Completely contradicted herself – as the police had to deal with the looters – which is protecting the community and the Secret Service patrolling the WH were protecting the Pres and family and staff.
Her indignant tone reminds me of this young lady:
The article finishes with “We want to hear what you think about this article”. I don’t think they’d print my letter but I think it’s a really poor article. She is a deceitful, manipulative, misdirecting, lying journalist. Her argument is weak – all the bamboozling with stats and fake comparisons to other countries couldn’t bolster support. She wasn’t honest. Do not trust anything written by Annie Lowery.
So many counter arguments to this defund idea. Like all these programs take time to get going and show improvements – and in the meantime – the same old same old still goes on, but there’s less policing resources to deal with it. And it still doesn’t address crime. The article pretends that domestic violence and assault and burglary and breaking into cars, and drug crimes will magically disappear because the petty fine system is disbanded. All that kind of crime doesn’t just stop because a recreation center has been opened near by.
And then there is the question training and refresh training and equipment. And rehab and medical benefits, counselling services to deal with aftermath of traumatic events. These all cost money. And how many stories have you heard about the backlog of rape test kits due to insufficent funds?
However, it would be good if something could be done to improve relations between poorer communities and police. It would be really good if police didn’t end up shooting mentally ill people or drugged up people who are behaving erratically.  I would be in favour of any workable progam to address those kinds of problems.  All the petty revenue raising activities that harass people and make life that little bit more stressful should go. But that’s the rub – they’re done to increase revenue. Diverting funds from the police department doesn’t make the problem of plugging budget holes disappear. Communities want and expect their City to be good shepherds of funds – after all they are our taxes. We should insist on a bigger bang for our tax buck from these elected officials.
Some interesting thoughts expressed here.