After an interview on Snapchat, President Barack Obama is receiving blowback for criticising calls to “defund the police,” which he referred to as “a snappy slogan.” The conversation occurred during a political show on the social media platform called Good Luck America, hosted by Peter Hamby, where Obama joined to promote his new book, A Promised Land. But when asked about making impactful change, the former president gave a confusing answer regarding a movement that seeks to end police brutality.
“You lost a big audience the minute you say it,” Obama said of demands to defund the police, “which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.” Instead, he suggested advocates for police defunding rally the public around the idea of reforming police departments “so that everyone’s being treated fairly.”
Progressive politicians, many of whom have challenged policies championed by Obama and the Democratic establishment, were quick to respond to the former president’s criticisms. “We lose people in the hands of police. It’s not a slogan but a policy demand,” Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar explained on Twitter. “And centring the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety.”
Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley also stepped in to comment on the president’s statements, saying that she will “never stop fighting” for the justice of unarmed Black people who have been killed by police.
The murders of generations of unarmed Black folks by police have been horrific. Lives are at stake daily so I’m out of patience with critiques of the language of activists.
Whatever a grieving family says is their truth.
And I’ll never stop fighting for their justice & healing.
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) December 2, 2020
We didn’t lose Breonna because of a slogan.
Instead of conceding this narrative, let’s shape our own. It’s time we listen to the people, organize and build coalitions around our own message, and cast a vision that inspires us all to lead for change at the ballot box and beyond. https://t.co/mBg7wanaR6
— Charles Booker (@Booker4KY) December 2, 2020
Despite what Obama and other establishment Democrats have painted of activists, the demand to defund the police is not so radical and merely calling for a redistribution of police funding to other departments. The movement to defund the police surged in June in the wake of a national uprising and reckoning around anti-Black violence at the hands of the police and is a policy demand that asks for money to be rerouted from police departments to other public services.
But, it is different from the demand to abolish the police, which is a larger scale, a reimagining that envisions a world without carceral systems or police officers at all. It is also worth noting that no Democratic candidate in a swing district ran during this past election cycle on calls to defund the police. Obama’s words are merely a reflection of the party’s lack of understanding of the movement at large.
“With all due respect, Mr President — let’s talk about losing people. We lost Michael Brown Jr. We lost Breonna Taylor. We’re losing our loved ones to police violence,” tweeted Missouri Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush. Bush was elected to Congress after becoming a force for change and a leader in her community in the aftermath of the Ferguson uprising. “It’s not a slogan. It’s a mandate for keeping our people alive. Defund the police.”
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