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These lifelong Democrats lost loved ones to shootings. They don’t trust the party to solve it.

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CLEVELAND — For two lifelong Democrats mourning the deaths of loved ones killed in shootings here, the top priorities in this year’s midterm elections boil down to two things: crime and policing. And that makes them both doubt their support for the party.

Erica Ingram, whose 24-year-old son, Rakeem, was shot dead steps from her front door in 2019, is fed up with not having answers about his murder. She believes the increase in crime in her town is overwhelming the police and leading them not to call her back when she asks for updates.

“In Cleveland, I know it’s back-to-back murders, and my son is basically a cold case now,” she said. “It’s crazy. He got shot in the afternoon and someone got shot that same night. So it’s like it’s continuous, continuous, continuous. And it’s like OK, when are we going to start solving something?”

For more on this story, watch NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt tonight at 6:30 PM ET / 5:30 PM CT.

The frustration of begging the police for updates and answers about her son has resulted in her not voting for Democrats this cycle. Instead, for the first time in her life, she’s leaning heavily toward voting for Republicans, including Ohio Senate nominee JD Vance, who she believes best reflects her anger.

“I see he feels sorry for what the Democrats don’t feel sorry for,” she said. “They’re kind of weak. They don’t fight hard enough about where the Republicans go and they pull out all the stops.”

On the other side of town, Brenda Bickerstaff is also frustrated with Democrats, albeit for a different reason. Her brother, Craig, was shot dead by police in 2002 and she has since become an advocate for police accountability and civilian oversight. She worries that Democrats who pledge to crack down on crime, including President Joe Biden and Democratic Representative Tim Ryan, who is running against Vance, are doing so to gain votes and use rhetoric that will lead to more police brutality against black. people and people of color.

“I am very disappointed in the Democratic Party,” Bickerstaff said. “When I hear hard crime, I’m like, okay, they’re going to violate people’s Fourth Amendment rights. That’s what’s going to happen. People will be illegally detained for no reason so that they can set up a business for them or create a business for them. That’s the problem.”

Craig Bickerstaff was shot dead by police in 2002.
Craig Bickerstaff was shot dead by police in 2002.Thanks to Brenda Bickerstaff

Together, these two women illustrate just how much crime and police concerns are at the center of this election cycle as cities across the country experience spikes in murder rates and violence. From Nevada to Wisconsin to Ohio, both political parties are vying to convince voters that they will keep communities safe.

On the one hand, Republicans are spending millions to portray Democrats as gentle on crime and trying to tie the party to the “defund the police” movement. On the other hand, high-profile Democrats, who went to great lengths to enforce police checks after George Floyd’s murder by officers in Minnesota two years ago, are now talking more about pumping resources into law enforcement and following the appeals of the Republicans to make crime more serious.

Ohio Senate Democratic candidate Tim Ryan campaigns for Tuesday's primary
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, a US Senate candidate, talks to supporters at a rally in Lorain on May 2.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

In Ohio, several cities are struggling with an increase in homicide rates. Columbus set a record with 175 homicides in 2020, according to the city’s police, only to break that record a year later with 204 homicides. According to the Cleveland Police Department, the city had 179 homicides in 2020, the most ever, and then the second most in 2021, with 165 homicides.

With voters on edge, Vance has hammered Ryan for voting for the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, a draft police reform bill that was not passed due to Republican opposition in the Senate. In response, Ryan has emphasized his support for law enforcement and his track record of bringing money to the police.

“JD Vance can flap his gums all he wants and she… [Republicans] can make allegations as they please, but look at the record,” Ryan told NBC News in an interview. “I have a 20-year track record and have brought half a billion dollars to law enforcement here in Ohio.”

To make his case even clearer, Ryan recently ran an ad in which Stark County Sheriff George T. Maier says, “Tim Ryan knows it’s ridiculous to impeach the police. He spent $467 million to put good cops on the street.” to make.”

Ryan has also tried to portray Vance as someone who wants to take resources from cops. “Amid all this crime and insecurity in our communities, JD Vance wants to abolish alcohol, tobacco and firearms, the federal agency that helps local law enforcement and sheriffs solve crimes and prevent crimes,” he said. “That’s an extreme position and any Ohioan will know that’s his position.”

Vance defended that he wanted to abolish the ATF, telling NBC News that it has become too political and focused too much on “law-abiding citizens” rather than crime.

“The ATF is so politicized and focused on issues that are not part of its core competence,” said Vance. “I think you have to replace it. But I think sometimes it’s these federal bureaucracies, when they stopped working, sometimes it’s easier to get rid of them and replace them instead of trying to reform them. “

Image: JD Vance
Republican Senate candidate JD Vance speaks at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on April 23 in Ohio. Joe Maiorana / AP

However, Republicans spend millions of dollars on television commercials blaming Democrats for violent crime and record inflation and gas prices.

And in an interview with NBC News, Vance said Ryan cannot be trusted to keep communities safe.

“Tim Ryan’s criminal record is the man who supported ‘defund the police,’ who systematically called the police racist and called them the new Jim Crow,” Vance said. (Ryan referred to the criminal justice system, not to the police, like the new Jim Crow in 2019).

When asked what his message was to voters who feared cracking down on crime would lead to police brutality and racial profiling, Vance said this is a “false choice.”

“You don’t have to choose between good policing and cracking down on crime. In fact, I think they really work together,” he said. “I think you can be really tough on violent criminals without having some of the other issues that people worry about. And frankly, if you’re a little If you are more aggressive towards the really violent criminals, you make the community safer, you increase trust between the police and the community. That’s a good thing.”

But as the two sides battle it out, both Ingram and Bickerstaff worry about whether their concerns are being taken seriously.

Every day, Ingram walks past the spot where her son’s body lay in the street for hours as authorities dealt with the scene. She has built a makeshift memorial at a nearby post and says she won’t feel safe until his killer is caught and the shootings that keep her up at night disappear.

A poster commemorating Rakeem Ingram.
A poster commemorating Rakeem Ingram.NBC News

“That first year I walked past this pole, I cried. I cried so hard. I was choking,” she said. “Now it’s like literally dissecting fireworks from gunshot wounds. And I’m staying down the street from a trauma hospital, so it’s like, sometimes, when I hear the ambulance, I’m on my teeth gotta bite because I thought, oh, man, someone else got shot. And then it’s like, you wake up in the middle of the night and you might see that someone’s been killed.”

Bickerstaff has a clear message for Democrats as she hopes they will learn a balance between preventing police brutality and local shootings.

“Stop playing games,” she said. ‘You are either for restructuring and reform or you are not. Don’t go over the fence because you want a vote. Do we have crime? Yes. Crime must be tackled, as must liability. But don’t make this person responsible for a crime he didn’t commit, because you’re trying to solve a case.”

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