The State Of California: Gov. Newsom On Defunding Police, Reopening

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By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

The calls continue to defund the police in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Until today, Gov. Gavin Newsom had not weighed in. Meanwhile, California continues to ease its coronavirus shelter orders allowing more and more of the economy to reopen, but is it safe to do so?

Governor Gavin Newsom came to Oakland on Tuesday to talk about those very issues. He went to Ms. Ollie’s, the Caribbean restaurant in the Old Oakland section of Downtown Oakland and Swan’s Marketplace to meet with local African American business leaders, and he was asked if he supports the growing movement to defund police. He gave a typically nuanced Newsom answer, and he said, “It’s a deeper opportunity to reimagine policing and looking at years and years of over reliance on policing to solve social issues to solve problems like homelessness, mental health, addiction, and I think that this review is long overdue.”

He went on to say that he sees it more as an opportunity to look at public safety defined. 

So, in other words, the answer is no. He does not want to abolish police departments, he does not want to eliminate their funding, he does want to overhaul how they operate and what their responsibilities are. 

He also pointed out that he’s trying to defund prisons by shutting at least one down, and that he supports legislation to track excessive use of force by police, and to require more training on implicit bias.

He called this a healthy debate, but he made it clear he wants to see reform of policing, not an end to it. So he’s very much staking out that middle position along with people like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Before we move on from defunding the police, I want to ask you about the bigger picture of all of this. It’s almost becoming a litmus test this past week or so for Democrats. Do you see it creating schism within the Democratic Party between progressives and the more middle-of-the-roaders?

Well I think that schism already exists. You’ve got the Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez crew—young, more progressive reformers—and then you have the more mainstream moderate to liberal Democrats like Speaker Pelosi or a Gov. Newsom, and I think that split is already there and that this is more evidence of it. Even yesterday, we saw the police reform proposals, the legislation announced by Speaker Pelosi, Sen. Kamala Harris, Rep. Karen Bass (from Los Angeles) and that crew. It’s not enough for the more progressive people who say, “No, we reject that, we want you to defund the police, we want to defund police departments.”

The question is: does that become an open wound that splits them further apart as we move toward November—of course, this is a critical election—or do they find a common ground?

You’ve got a lot of people in the party who have wanted reforms for a long time, now they see an opportunity to maybe pass some of them, but someone like Pelosi or Newsom is not going to want to go as far as some of the more progressive ideas that are coming out there, which is simply, literally getting rid of police departments. 

I want to ask you about the risk of reopening the state’s economy. Some of the headlines say, “Cases here spiked, they spiked as more and more things reopened.” But some of them aren’t very nuanced because some of the positive cases will, of course, continue to increase because testing is on the increase. 
What does Gov. Newsom say about this?

That is true, and we’re seeing it. People are getting scared as we see more and more cases nationwide and globally as areas reopen. The governor as said consistently that yes, we’re going to see more cases because there is more testing, but what matters to him the most is the positivity rate: what percentage of the people who get tested test positive? So, if that’s holding steady in the four percent range, then of course you’re going to see more as more get tested, but that doesn’t mean the disease is spreading more.

He said today (Tuesday) that it is holding steady, around 4.7 percent, that’s a little bit higher than it’s been. It’s been closer to 4.3 or 4.5 percent, but he feels that as long as it doesn’t increase much, of course we’re going to see more cases, but that doesn’t mean that it’s spreading more, it’s just more people are getting tested.

He feels there is ample PPE, that there’s enough hospital capacity, enough testing and tracking, so he’s not that worried and said that we can’t stay in this permanent state of lockdown, that we would have a public health crisis of poverty if we don’t reopen the economy at some point in what he called "a responsible way.”

Even though he anticipates that will mean an increase in number of cases, and we are seeing that, he said he’s going to leave it up to individual counties to decide to track their case loads and decide how to proceed, if they can pull back if they need to.

I know a lot of people, as I’m sure you do, who are concerned about this. A lot of people are anxious about getting back out there, but they’re also anxious about what that means. Just because a movie theater opens doesn’t mean they want to go one. Just because the swim club reopens doesn’t mean they’re willing to jump in the pool.

It’s a fine line, I think, for all of us to decide how much risk there is. And that’s why you’re also seeing, as we have this reopening, stricter requirements on wearing masks. You’re now supposed to wear them in some counties whenever you are outside within 30 feet of someone, as opposed to only within six feet or you can’t stay within a certain distance apart. So there’s a combination of things going on there, and we’re all just going to have to sort of take this as it comes through the summer. 

What did the governor have to say about a state financial crisis at this point? Anything new?

Yes, the budget negotiations, which they’re supposed to pass by June 15th (that’s next Monday). They have to pass something, or forgo their pay, so you can be sure they will pass something. 

He is still counting on a large infusion of billions of dollars from the federal government. It has not materialized. He said Speaker Pelosi is still working on it, she’s not going to walk away from that, he still hopes something will come about, he’s not giving up hope, they’ve got a week. He also seemed to say that he never anticipated that he had as much as they really wanted, but he does seem to still have hope that there will be some money forthcoming from the Trump administration, even though he had some harsher words for the Trump administration over the past week than he had before. He’s still counting on the necessary financial support coming from Congress and from the president. 


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