Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis Calls Defunding The Police “Nuts”

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Former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis has a warning for the Democratic Party:  don’t cede fighting crime to Republicans.

Dukakis, who was the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1988, told The Hill in a recent interview that the movement to “defund the police” is “nuts” and that it’s bad politics.

“I’m saying to myself, my God, what the hell is going on here?” Dukakis told The Hill.

“On one hand, you have folks screaming and yelling about getting rid of policing, which makes no sense at all,” Dukakis added. “And then on the other hand, you have some people totally misinterpreting what community policing is, just as we were really making huge progress.”

While some may argue about being either tough or soft on crime, Dukakis rejects that binary choice. He says that he supports the police, but it’s about having good police that know what they’re doing.

“You need active police presence, but led by police officers who are well-trained and who understand how you work effectively and constructively and appropriately with communities,” Dukakis told The Hill. “We were headed in that direction until all of this stuff, and here we are now.”

While the progressive wing of the Democratic Party embraced the “defund the police” slogan, it’s politically unpopular. Just 18 percent of Americans support the “defund the police” movement, according to a March 2021 poll conducted by USA Today, while 58 percent oppose it.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, reiterated opposition to the “defund the police” movement following the November 2020 general election.

Clyburn told CNN that he thought the slogan cost Democrats seats in Congress and that it hurt the Black Lives Matter movement.

When Dukakis ran for president in 1988, his campaign was hurt by a public perception that he was not tough enough on crime. For example, one famous attack ad against Dukakis featured a black man named Willie Horton.

Horton is a convicted murderer who robbed and killed a white gas station attendant in Lawrence in 1974. That got him a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole. Horton was released from prison under a weekend furlough program in 1986 when Dukakis was governor. However, Horton didn’t return to prison. Instead, he twice raped a woman and stole a car.

Additionally, Dukakis took heat for his opposition to the death penalty in a presidential debate.

CNN’s Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis, “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Dukakis responded by saying, “No, I don’t, Bernard, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We’ve done so in my own state and it’s one of the reasons why we have had the biggest drop in crime of any industrial state in America, why we have the lowest murder rate of any industrial state in America.”

This came at a time when 79 percent of Americans supported the death penalty for a convicted murderer, according to a September 1988 Gallup poll

During his interview with The Hill, Dukakis said that he screwed up on the crime issue in his 1988 campaign and explained what he thinks he should have done differently:  go after Bush on crime.

“I badly muffed an opportunity to really turn it right on Bush,” Dukakis said. “I started that campaign, I was going to be a positive guy, not going to get into the attack campaigning and all that kind of stuff. And it was a mistake,” 

“I come from Greater Boston where the homicide rate is one-sixth of the homicide rate in Houston,” he added. “They have the death penalty and we don’t. Don’t you think I should have done something? Kinda used that? Well, shame on me — I didn’t. And we had a story to tell.”

Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential election by about 7 points. He won 10 states and the District of Columbia despite leading by 17 points in the polls around the time of the Democratic National Convention the previous summer.

Ultimately, George H.W. Bush, born in Milton, Massachusetts, won the election. He was then-President Ronald Reagan’s vice president. 


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