Democratic South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn on Sunday said he does not support calls to defund the police, saying instead to restructure law enforcement.
“Nobody is going to defund the police,” Clyburn, the House Majority Whip and one of the leading African American members of Congress, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of The Union.” “We can restructure the police forces. Restructure, re-imagine policing. That is what we are going to do.”
He continued, “The fact of the matter is that police have a role to play. What we’ve got to do is make sure that their role is one that meets the times, one that responds to these communities that they operate in.”
Clyburn’s comments come amid nationwide protests against police violence and racial injustice after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. There is a growing debate over defunding police departments and allocating resources into communities, which some activists have floated as a potential step toward end police brutality.
Clyburn told CNN’s Ana Cabrera on Saturday that he believes pushing a “defund the police” slogan only gives “cover” to President Donald Trump and the people opposing change in the law enforcement system.
“Because you know all that will do is give Donald Trump the cover he needs. I’ve been saying to people all the time, ‘If you allow yourself to play the opponent’s game, you’re going to lose and the opponent will win.’ Let’s not play his game,” Clyburn said on “CNN Newsroom.” “He is about violence. He is about sloganry. He is about what I like to say, really, insulting. That’s not who we are.”
Last week, former Vice President Joe Biden said that he does not support some calls to defund the police.
“No, I don’t support defunding the police,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said in an interview with CBS while in Houston to meet with Floyd’s family. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness. And, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.”
Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has said police departments should be dismantled, defended her position to Tapper later on the same program.
“No one is saying crimes will not be investigated. No one is saying that we are not going to have proper response when community members are in danger,” Omar said. “What we are saying is the current infrastructure that exists as policing in our city should not exist anymore. And we can’t go about creating a different process with the same infrastructure in place. And so dismantling it and then looking at what funding priorities should look like as we re-imagine a new way forward is what needs to happen.”
Asked about opposition from Democrats, including Clyburn, on defunding the police, Omar said it is not a federal issue, but a state level and local one.
“I think for people who really are you know questioning and talking about this movement, they’re not paying attention to what the people are asking for. And to me, you know, this is not for members of Congress, this isn’t for the President, this is a municipality issue. This is a state level issue.”
During the CNN interview Sunday, Clyburn also commented on the death of Rayshard Brooks, 27, who was shot dead by a white police officer in Atlanta on Friday night at a Wendy’s drive-through in the city.
“I was very incensed over that,” Cyburn said. “This did not call for lethal force.”
“I don’t know what’s in the culture that would make this guy do that,” Clyburn said, referring to the now fired officer.
The officer who killed Brooks was terminated Saturday, police spokesman Carlos Campos said. He was identified by police as Garrett Rolfe. A second officer, Devin Bronsan, involved in the killing was placed on administrative duty, Campos said.
Brooks’ death reignited protests Saturday night in Atlanta, where hundreds blocked a major interstate, a fast-food restaurant was set ablaze and authorities responded with tear gas.
This story has been updated with Clyburn’s previous comments on “CNN Newsroom” and comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar on “State of the Union.”
CNN’s Sarah Westwood contributed to this story.