DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley pitched herself Monday as a bridge between law enforcement and the Democratic party, appealing to moderate voters in one of the nation's most competitive races for a seat in the narrowly divided chamber.
Joined by more than a dozen current and former law enforcement officers at a news conference in Durham, Beasley announced new legislative priorities to strengthen public safety and mend the frayed relationship between her party and the police force.
The Democrat committed to working with Republican lawmakers to secure funding for local law enforcement to train officers on deescalation techniques, mindful responses to behavioral health crises and alternatives to using force. She also told sheriffs she would fight for federal funding to help rural departments address officer shortages and the ongoing opioid crisis.
With the Senate in a 50-50 deadlock, North Carolina is one of the few states where Democrats have strong potential to flip a seat this November. Beasley, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, will face off this fall against Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Beasley distanced herself Monday from the “defund the police” movement — a progressive push to divest funds from police department budgets and reallocate them to social services and other community resources.
Popularized by Black Lives Matter activists during the 2020 George Floyd protests, the slogan spun into a political weapon for Republican candidates in the last election cycle, giving them a mechanism to paint their Democratic opponents as anti-law enforcement.
“I do not support defund the police,” Beasley said Monday. “I know that police officers need more funding ... for recruitment, retention, training, mental health and addressing the opioid crisis. We've got to be more realistic about the kinds of issues that they're dealing with in our communities.”
Beasley is among several Democratic candidates in competitive races who have recently spoken out against the polarizing political movement.
U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat and former Orlando police chief who's challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for his seat, pledged in a recent campaign ad to protect Floridians from “crazy" ideas like “defund the police.” And Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, who is fighting for a second term in one of the nation's most contentious gubernatorial races, has called unjustified police shootings “isolated instances" and lauded the state's high law enforcement budget.
Budd said Monday that it’s “dishonest” for Beasley to portray herself as favored by law enforcement. He touted his own endorsements from the North Carolina Troopers Association, a separate union that represents most border patrol agents, and many local sheriffs as evidence that he’d be the best candidate to support officers and deputies.
Beasley’s campaign is in “a desperate place when it comes to law enforcement,” Budd said after a speech to Christian ministers and their spouses at a Greenville church.
Republicans criticized Beasley last year when a Federal Election Commission filing showed her campaign listed as participating in a joint fundraiser that included the campaign committee for Democratic U.S. Rep. Cori Bush from Missouri. Bush is a vocal advocate for defunding the police and reinvesting that money in social services and mental health programs. Budd made an indirect reference to Beasley's association with Bush at his campaign appearance Monday.
Later organizational documents filed for the “Lead the Way 2022” committee do not mention the Beasley campaign's continued involvement.
Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said Beasley has been rightfully critical of law enforcement, noting that she was the first chief justice in the nation to call out racial bias in the justice system after a white Minneapolis police officer murdered Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in May 2020.
But Birkhead also described her as the only candidate in the race “who law enforcement officers can truly count on.”
“She has demonstrated her knowledge and her leadership and her advocacy," the sheriff said. "Folks like her opponent talk a big game about supporting us, but his (Budd's) record speaks otherwise.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter @H_Schoenbaum.