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U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) speaks during a TV interview. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) speaks during a TV interview.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) speaks during a TV interview.

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht August 19, 2020

No, Cunningham has not been 'silent' on defunding police

If Your Time is short

  • U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) faces a challenge from Democrat Cal Cunningham.
  • In July, Tillis said Cunningham has been "silent on this defunding the police" issue.
  • A month prior, Cunningham wrote an op-ed saying he believes police reform must involve more funding, not less.

To hear U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis tell it, his Democratic opponent hasn’t weighed-in on one of America’s most heated debates.

Tills, a North Carolina Republican, faces a re-election challenge from Democrat Cal Cunningham.

In a July 30 interview with conservative radio show host David Webb, Tillis suggested that Cunningham wants to defund the police.

"I'm very, very concerned that we're going to see, I believe, mass retirements of police officers, fewer people going into academies because (of) the Democrats. Cal Cunningham has been silent on this on defunding the police; I assume his silence is consent. I think that is a very dangerous path," Tillis said.

Tillis has previously suggested Cunningham hasn’t taken a position on the issue. In a July 28 interview with WLOS in Asheville, Tillis told a reporter that he "would ask (Cunningham) how he feels about defunding the police."

Is it true that Cunningham has been "silent" on the issue of defunding the police? No.

What does ‘defund’ mean?

Calls to defund the police spread after the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

The phrase "defund the police" can imply different things, depending on who says the phrase, as PolitiFact has reported. Some protesters want to eliminate police departments entirely, while others want to reexamine the functions of police departments and redirect some of their funding to other services.

On Webb’s show, Tillis spoke about why he believes defunding the police is a bad idea. The campaign provided a copy of the transcript:

"We are doing the worst possible thing with this concept of defund the police. I ask people this all the time, ‘When you dial 911 and a policeman shows up at your door are you afraid or are you relieved?’ And you know what the answer to that question is. 

The bad apples need to be prosecuted and there are ones in jail. But the vast majority of law enforcement officers out there are putting their lives on the line every day and it is despicable how they are being treated. So of course crime is going to go up. Now you’ve got law enforcement officers wanting to try and stop the violent situation, but you’ve got to admit they’re humans and they don’t know. Where they would push in a little more, they’re not drawing back and that’s got to be a part of the crime, and a majority of the crime are all these people who have hijacked peaceful protests and they’re killing the very people that they profess to be representing or helping. 

Featured Fact-check

This is a very dangerous time in American history. I’m very, very concerned that we're going to see, I believe, mass retirements of police officers, fewer people going into academies because (of) the Democrats. Cal Cunningham has been silent on this on defunding the police; I assume his silence is consent. I think that that is a very dangerous path and our communities are going to become less and less safe as a result."

So what has Cunningham said?

On the record

Cunningham told the News & Observer for a June 11 story that he is in favor of some reforms, but not defunding. He said: "Twenty-first century policing reform will require increased investment in law enforcement, not defunding it."

His quote was later republished in articles by RealClearPolitics and The Federalist, conservative news outlets.

That same day, he published an op-ed elaborating on his position. Cunningham said he supports a program that issues grants to police departments that reform their use-of-force policies.

"These policies must counsel de-escalation, prohibit chokeholds, limit no-knock warrants, and specifically address the use of deadly force, while making sure law enforcement preserves its right to proportional self-defense," Cunningham wrote.

Several days after Tillis’ quote, Cunningham reiterated his position during an interview with WLOS in Asheville. 

"I’ve, in fact, very specifically said I don’t support defunding the police," Cunningham said.

We asked the Tillis campaign what the senator meant by his comments. Campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said Tillis' broader point was that Cunningham "has been silent by comparison when it comes to the overall topic of standing up for law enforcement and against violent protestors."

Our ruling

Tillis said "Cal Cunningham has been silent on this on defunding the police; I assume his silence is consent."

Cunningham has not been silent on the issue. He published an op-ed in June, saying "Twenty-first century policing reform will require increased investment in law enforcement, not defunding it."

The Tillis campaign says the senator meant something else. But PolitiFact judges people on what they say, and Tillis’ claim on Webb’s show is inaccurate. So we rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Audio of a July 30 Thom Tillis interview with conservative radio show host David Webb.

Email correspondence with Andrew Romeo, spokesman for the Thom Tillis campaign.

Email correspondence with Aaron Simpson, spokesman for the Cal Cunningham campaign.

Press release from the Thom Tillis campaign, "Tillis talks contrast with Cunningham in interview with WLOS-Asheville," posted July 28, 2020.

Op-ed by Cal Cunningham, "Priorities for constructive change in policing," posted June 11, 2020.

Story by PolitiFact, "‘Defund the police’ movement: What do activists mean by that?" posted June 9, 2020.

Story by the News & Observer, "Senate campaign: Tillis, Cunningham oppose defunding the police, push other reforms," posted June 11, 2020.

Story by RealClearPolitics, "Defund-police push has key Dem candidates on defense," posted July 11, 2020.

Story by The Federalist, "Rioters’ ‘defund the police’ push puts Democrat candidates on defense," posted July 17, 2020.

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No, Cunningham has not been 'silent' on defunding police

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