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Texas Shooting Stokes Democrats’ Disagreements Concerning the Police

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Last Wednesday, on the second anniversary of George Floyd’s death, President Biden unveiled a long-awaited executive order aimed toward overhauling policing in america.

As my colleagues noted on the time, the ultimate text of the order reflected “the balancing act the president is attempting to navigate on policing” — between progressive activists demanding greater constraints on using force, police groups in search of to limit the scope of change and Republicans who see rising crime as a winning political issue. It was the product of delicate coalition politics — greater than 120 meetings across greater than 100 hours, in response to the White House.

But all of that balancing work, which earned praise from groups as disparate because the N.A.A.C.P., the A.C.L.U. and the Fraternal Order of Police, masked an everlasting divide amongst Democrats that the massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, has ripped back open: Should America invest more in its police or redirect funding and a spotlight elsewhere?

Relating to the way to protect children in schools, the national debate bears many hallmarks of the country’s disagreements over policing, and falls into lots of the same ruts.

After the Texas shooting, there have been immediate calls by Democrats to ban military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, tempered by pessimism that few, if any, Republicans would support anything beyond enhanced background checks and red-flag laws. Most Democrats agree on that much.

Democrats also universally ridiculed arguments by Republicans, led in recent days by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, that the reply to mass shootings in schools is “armed good guys stopping armed bad guys” — not outlawing AR-15s.

“Why those sorts of weapons can be found to residents is beyond me,” said Michael Nutter, a former mayor of Philadelphia. “And no person has ever been able to present a legitimate reason or rationale for that.”

But then the consensus amongst Democrats starts to interrupt down.

Speaking for a lot of on the left, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of Latest York, noted in a tweet that the college district in Uvalde had “its own police force” but did not halt the slaughter. “After many years of mass shootings, there remains to be 0 evidence that police have the flexibility to stop them from happening,” she wrote. “Gun safety and other policies can.”

That’s not what the White House has been saying. Centrist Democrats, led by Biden, have pushed since taking power to present police departments more resources — and have loudly distanced themselves from calls after George Floyd’s murder to defund police departments.

The president’s pandemic relief package, the American Rescue Plan, directed $10 billion in federal spending toward public safety. During his State of the Union address in March, the president pounded the lectern as he declared, “We must always all agree the reply isn’t to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them.”

The federal government has also poured hundreds of thousands into hardening schools’ defenses. In April, the Justice Department announced $53 million in latest funding for improved security at schools across the country, on top of nearly $64.7 million for proposals to forestall and reply to violent episodes.

In case there have been any doubt, the president’s remarks on the signing ceremony for the chief order made clear which side he’s on. He criticized “those that seek to drive a wedge between law enforcement and the people they serve.” And he praised “brave local officers and Border Patrol agents,” who he said had “intervened to save lots of as many children as they may” in Texas.

Days later, as details emerged in regards to the local police’s mishandling of the massacre in Uvalde, the Justice Department announced a review of law enforcement agencies’ actions.

In a single indicator of the eagerness around policing on the left, David Axelrod, a former political adviser to Barack Obama, faced an onslaught of criticism after he tweeted that Uvalde had shown that the police were “indispensable.”

“My point was to not praise the indefensible decisions police made in Uvalde that day,” Axelrod explained in an email. “It was that their inaction for 90 minutes spoke to the indispensability of proper, prompt policing in tragic situations akin to this. Those kids needed the police that day. They didn’t act until far too late.”

“There’s little or no doubt that we’re going to see more cops in schools consequently of this,” said Adam Gelb, the chief executive of the Council on Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan policy and research organization in Atlanta. “And likewise louder and more vociferous arguments that more cops isn’t the answer.”

One in every of those present when Biden signed the chief order was Udi Ofer, deputy national political director of the A.C.L.U. and a pacesetter of the group’s work on criminal justice. The A.C.L.U. has been probably the most vocal proponents of overhauling policing.

In an interview, Ofer praised the chief order as a “first step” that incorporated a few of the A.C.L.U.’s priorities, akin to its call for cabinet officials to drag together guidance and resources promoting other ways of responding to “individuals in crisis” — for instance, sending a mental health skilled to answer someone experiencing a mental health crisis, as a substitute of a police officer.

Groups on the left argue that increasing resources for counseling and mental health is critical to identifying and stopping potential mass shooters, including in schools.

A 2019 report by the A.C.L.U. argued that america had over-invested in cops in schools while underinvesting in mental health resources. It found, for example, that 14 million students attended schools with cops but without counselors, nurses, psychologists or social staff.

Ofer pointed to research, in the shape of a working paper published in March, indicating that investments in early childhood education repay by reducing the likelihood that students shall be arrested as adults.

“When a tragedy like this happens, the reflexive response is to place more policing in schools,” Ofer said. “But police actually don’t do a very good job of stopping mass shootings.”

To Marc Morial, the chief executive of the National Urban League, the ideological debate over policing in America is a source of limitless frustration.

“The problem isn’t more policing or less policing,” Morial said in an interview. “The problem is healthier police and higher policing.”

As mayor of Latest Orleans for eight years, Morial revamped town’s Police Department and tripled investment in community programs. Now, he worries that the return of “tough-on-crime” messaging could herald a regression to the failed policing strategies of the past.

“I feel very, very strongly that we could make a fallacious turn and return to yesterday,” Morial said. “There’s quite a lot of empty, hole political rhetoric on this space.”

— Blake

Is there anything you’re thinking that we’re missing? Anything you ought to see more of? We’d love to listen to from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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