Stacey Abrams on Violent Crime, Defunding the Police

Stacey Abrams, who faces Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in a rematch this fall, correctly accused Kemp’s TV ad makers of “conveniently” editing her comments about defunding the police, but she falsely claimed that the state’s violent crimes went up 55% in 2020. The actual increase was about 5%.

Violent Crimes

Abrams, who narrowly lost to Kemp in the 2018 governor’s race, made her remarks about violent crime in the state on “Fox News Sunday” after host Martha MacCallum asked Abrams if it was “a mistake to defund the police” given that crime is rising across the country.

Abrams, June 26: The intention that we had in 2020 was to call attention to the harm that was being done to Black people by the police. We have a litany of murders that shocked the conscience of every American. But let’s be clear, in the state of Georgia, violent crime went up 55% in 2019 to 2020 under Brian Kemp. It had nothing to do with the reaction to George Floyd’s murder, to Rayshard Brooks’ murder, to Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, to Breonna Taylor’s murder. It happened under Brian Kemp’s leadership. It happened under a president and a governor who believed that punishment rather than a balanced approach was the answer. We know that has never worked. That we have to have both public safety and justice.

According to the Georgia Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the total number of reported violent crimes in Georgia was 26,615 in 2019 and 27,916 in 2020 – which was an increase of 1,301 violent crimes, or nearly 5%, not 55%.

When factoring in the state’s growing population, the rise in the reported violent crime rate was even smaller. The reported violent crime rate per 100,000 population increased 3.9% from 251.3 in 2019 to 261 in 2020.

Abrams didn’t mention the change in violent crimes in 2021, but there was an even larger increase in that year — both in the number and rate of reported violent crimes.

In 2021, there were 33,686 reported violent crimes in Georgia and a violent crime rate of 312 per 100,000 population, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. That’s an annual increase of 5,770 reported violent crimes, or nearly 21%. The rate per 100,000 population increased by 19.5%.

Still, the violent crime rate has gone down under Kemp, since he became governor in January 2019. The rate was 325.7 per 100,000 population in 2018, the year before Kemp took office. That’s higher than any of the rates in Kemp’s first three years as governor.

We asked the Abrams campaign where she got the 55% figure and whether she misspoke. We did not get an immediate response. But if we get a response, we will update this article.

Defunding the Police

MacCallum also asked Abrams about a TV ad, paid for by the Kemp campaign, that shows a short clip of CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota interviewing Abrams on June 15, 2020, about her position on defunding the police.

Ad announcer: Listen to Stacey Abrams on defunding the police.

Camerota: [S]o yes, to some defunding?

Abrams: We have to reallocate resources, so yes.

Ad announcer: Stacey Abrams said “yes” to defunding the police.

MacCallum played that clip and asked Abrams for her reaction to the ad.

MacCallum: So, what’s your reaction to that? And do you believe that you’ve changed your tune on defunding the police?

Abrams: No, because if you listen to the whole clip, which Brian Kemp conveniently leaves out, I said, if the choice is between the murder of Black people and serving Black people, then certainly. But I don’t think that’s where we are and I don’t think that’s where we have to be.

My intent is to balance public safety and justice. Because doing otherwise has never worked. We cannot punish our way into public safety. But we also have to recognize that there are deep challenges in how law enforcement engages our communities. And that is why I’m pushing both for public safety measures, accountability measures and criminal justice reform measures.

Abrams is correct. Kemp’s ad makers did leave out Abrams’ explanation of her remarks and the important caveat about having to choose how to spend money when resources are tight and problems exist in police departments.

Here is Abrams’ full response to Camerota. The interview occurred three days after Rayshard Brooks was killed by Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe.

Camerota, June 15, 2020: And so that leads us to the larger conversation that we’ve been having for three — at least three weeks now, and that’s the, what do we do about police departments? What about the defunding argument, which is, that if you take some of the money away from police departments and put it into community programs that that would be more helpful. Do you agree with that?

Abrams: I agree that we have to have two conversations at the exact same time. We have to have a reform conversation that acknowledges that the murder of George Floyd, the murder of Breonna Taylor, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the murder of Tony [Mc]Dade, the murder of Rayshard Brooks, the murder of Black men and women who’s litany is too long to go into on the show. That those behaviors have to be changed, because we do have legitimate needs for public safety, for domestic violence victims, for children who are risk. There are real reasons to have public safety, but the way we currently construct our police and the way we dehumanize those who should benefit from their safety must stop.

But we also have to reallocate resources to invest in community. We have to improve education, we have to improve health care, we have to improve community programs that actually widen the likelihood of communities of color, particularly Black communities, surviving and thriving. And the notion that we have to put these two conversations in conflict is false. What is true is that we can and must do both. Reallocate resources for the public good and for the humanization of Black communities, but also make certain that extrajudicial killings do not continue in our country.

Camerota: So — so yes, to some defunding?

Abrams: We have to reallocate resources, so yes. If there’s a moment where the resources are so tight that we have to choose between whether we murder Black people or serve Black people, then absolutely our choice must be service.

But I actually think it’s creating a false choice and a false narrative that’s playing into the hands of Donald Trump and the Republicans and sometimes into a media narrative that seeks to make overly simplistic decisions.

Slogans help, framing things through language helps, but we cannot be distracted from the policy responsibilities we have. And that’s my focus.

So, Abrams has a point that her remarks in the TV ad were selectively edited. But she’s wrong about the reporting of violent crimes under Kemp.

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