Home » Battleground state Dem distances himself from defund movement, but political record shows different story

Battleground state Dem distances himself from defund movement, but political record shows different story

by John Jefferson
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Longtime Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey has distanced himself from the defund the police movement in the run-up to his self-described “tough” election this year, despite recent endorsements from groups advocating that police departments be defunded and promoting a bill that would have overhauled policing practices at the height of 2020’s protests and riots. 

“Senator Casey has a long and clear record of working alongside law enforcement and delivering hundreds of millions of dollars to fund bulletproof vests, SWAT gear, police cars, and ballistics shields for officers,” Maddy McDaniel, spokesperson for the Casey campaign, told Fox News Digital this month. “Senator Casey doesn’t support defunding the police, and he’s voted to block federal funding from cities and towns that defund their police departments.” 

The campaign’s response comes after the longtime Keystone State senator received endorsements this year from pro-defund advocacy groups Indivisible Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania state chapter of Indivisible.

“Indivisible Philadelphia and the #IndivisiblesOfPA enthusiastically support @Bob_Casey for re-election to the US Senate! #PASen,” Indivisible Philadelphia tweeted last month.

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Indivisible Philadelphia describes itself as a “grassroots organization of volunteers determined to advance a progressive agenda by resisting corruption, authoritarianism, and inequality in our governmental institutions.” The group has also repeatedly advocated for police departments to be defunded, most notably in 2020 when defund the police and Black Lives Matter protests and riots unfolded in cities from coast to coast.

“We won’t stop until they #DefundThePolice,” the group’s website reads in a June 25, 2020, post titled “Make Your Demand!”

“When we said #DefundThePolice we meant fewer officers on the street terrorizing Black and Brown residents. We meant moving away from the racist system of criminalization and penal punishment, and moving toward community-led public safety methods and programs,” the post continued, which came after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis that year.

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The advocacy group’s leader recently told Fox News Digital that police should be funded for “policing work” while other funds should be directed to support social workers and health officials to handle non-policing issues in communities.

“Our position has always been that police should be funded to do policing work, and that for other kinds of problems in the community, adequate funding should be provided for health care professionals, social workers and mental health professionals as appropriate,” Indivisible Philadelphia group leader Vicki Miller said.

Photo shows a person holding a sign reading "Defund Police" at a protest in 2020

Casey’s endorsement follows him outlining on his official Senate page that “we must reform” policing systems in the U.S., co-sponsoring the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, and even drawing the ire of law enforcement officials in the state after Indivisible Philadelphia threw its support behind him. 

“At a time when there were four shootings in four days on our local public transit system, and law enforcement across the commonwealth is understaffed, Casey’s decision to align himself with these defund the police activists is alarming and extremely dangerous,” said Folcroft Deputy Police Chief Chris Eiserman, who is also the Delaware County FOP Lodge 27 president, during a recent press conference with other law enforcement officials.

police car set on fire during george floyd riot

Casey joined Democrat New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and then-California Sen. Kamala Harris in 2020 to promote the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which was introduced after Floyd’s death. The bill, which did not pass, would have overhauled the qualified immunity doctrine – which protects police from lawsuits alleging that an official violated a plaintiff’s rights – and provided grants to state attorneys general to conduct ​​policing practice investigations and create investigation processes for allegations of police misconduct.

The bill also would have banned choke holds and changed the use of force standard for federal officers; made conspiracy to commit a hate crime a federal crime; mandate officers to receive racial, religious and discriminatory profiling training; and create a federal registry of all federal, state and local law enforcement regarding misconduct complaints or disciplinary records.

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“We must end police brutality and systematic racism in policing,” Casey said in a press release about the bill in 2020. “It is time for us to create structural change that safeguards every American’s right to safety and equal justice. I am proud to cosponsor the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which will hold police accountable and improve transparency in policing.”

Police officers in the state railed against the bill at the time, as well as an op-ed Casey penned that argued the legislation would help address “systemic racism in policing.”

“For too long, we have looked to increased training or increased resources as if they alone will solve the systemic issues in our law enforcement. And, too many times, we have witnessed the tragic consequences of our inability to fully implement a comprehensive solution to address the racial injustice and police brutality that permeates our nation’s history,” Casey wrote in the op-ed.

Scott L. Bohn, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, fired back in his own op-ed shortly after Casey’s opinion piece “seemingly maligned over 1,000 professional and dedicated law enforcement executives in the commonwealth.”

“The senator’s commentary, while politically expedient, lends itself to potentially shortsighted decisions that may have an adverse or unintended consequence,” Bohn wrote. “The opinion he expressed does not inform nor does it reflect the law enforcement environment in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s professional police chiefs are committed to public service and ensuring our communities are safe. Pennsylvanians need to work together and against social injustice and make our Commonwealth equally safe for all its citizens.”

Sen. Bob Casey

Fox News Digital obtained a copy of a letter that Casey reportedly sent to police officers who contacted him with concerns over the bill. In the letter, he doubled down on the legislation that would “put in place the most significant police reforms in our Nation’s history by focusing on officer accountability, data transparency and police practices and training.”

“Pennsylvanians and people across our Nation are angry, sad, tired and desperate for change. The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has reawakened our national attention not only to the significant concerns over the relationship between law enforcement and those they serve, but to the centuries of injustice and systemic oppression that led to this tragedy,” the response letter reads. 

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In 2021, Casey did vote for an amendment that would have blocked federal funding to jurisdictions that defunded the police, supported the American Rescue Plan – which provided more than $65 million for Pennsylvania policing funds – and backed legislation last year that provided $1 billion in federal funding for law enforcement agencies across the nation.

Casey, who has served as a senator since 2007, has said that he’s bracing for his “toughest” re-election campaign this year in an anticipated race against Republican Dave McCormick.

“It’ll be a close, tough race,” he recently told NBC. “But look, there’s a lot on the line every time. Every time I’ve run for public office in Pennsylvania, I’ve had to earn the vote and the trust of the people. And I got to do that again.”

McCormick campaigns in Pittsburgh

McCormick is an Army combat veteran who served as the Commerce Department’s undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security as well as undersecretary of the Treasury Department’s Office of International Affairs in former President George W. Bush’s administration. 

McCormick has received the endorsement of 47 sheriffs in the state, and he took issue with Indivisible Philadelphia’s endorsement of Casey in a comment to Fox News Digital.

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“Bob Casey headlined an event for Indivisible Philadelphia where he gladly accepted the endorsement of these Defund the Police activists, once again failing to stand up for our men and women in blue. This is a group that said, ‘We won’t stop until they defund the police, called for ‘fewer officers on the street,’ and advocated to ‘end cash bail.’ Pennsylvania deserves better,” McCormick wrote.

Casey has also received endorsements from law enforcement, including from Delaware County Sheriff Jerry L. Sanders Jr.

“Bob Casey has proven he’ll prioritize public safety for Delaware County and has stuck his neck out to give officers the resources and support they need to do the job. His opponent has only proven he’ll prioritize himself,” Sanders said in a comment to Fox News Digital.

The state’s Senate primaries will be held this month. Both Casey and McCormick are running unopposed in their respective primaries.

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