By J. Brian Charles, The Trace, October 18, 2021
Ray Kelly worried that the sound system wasn’t going to work. If the speakers failed, he was less likely to draw people to the park to build support for Baltimore’s movement to defund the police — to shift law enforcement funding to other services and projects that proponents hope can decrease violence. If he couldn’t get their attention with music, Kelly worried, he wouldn’t be able to explain the opportunity they had to radically reimagine how to keep their communities safe.
“Music is what brings this community outside,” Kelly said. He fussed with the wires until R&B singer Miguel’s “Sure Thing” began to fill the park. Moments later, as Kelly predicted, the small trickle of residents who had wandered out of nearby buildings to see what was happening gave way to a flood of more than 200 people.
The more listeners the better, because the defund movement is at a crossroads in Baltimore and elsewhere. The country experienced a record homicide spike in 2020, with cities like New York and Los Angeles reporting historic year-over-year surges — still well below the record murder rates of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but enough to stoke fears nationwide. Political support for defunding law enforcement has withered in many places, the gains earned during the summer 2020 protests flagging as people worry cities cannot fight surging crime without police. New York City voters picked Eric Adams, a former police officer and defund critic, in the Democratic mayoral primary in June, while the new president of the Los Angeles civilian oversight panel is an outspoken critic of the defund movement. Supporters in both cities are frustrated by the lack of sustained political support from government institutions, as across the country, defunders are still voicing their demands through demonstrations.