Obama Criticizes ‘Defund the Police’ Slogan and Catches Heat

Barack Obama (Credit: Shutterstock)

Former President Barack Obama has a few words of advice for activists and progressive politicians — using “snappy” slogans like “defund the police” can turn off voters.

“If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan like ‘defund the police,’ but you know you’ve lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually gonna get the changes you want done,” Obama said.

The nation’s 44th president made those comments during a virtual interview with Peter Hamby from the Snapchat political show Good Luck America.

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The phrase “defund the police” grew in popularity over the summer, during protests led by Black Lives Matter activists after the in-custody death of George Floyd.

The term means reallocating funds away from police departments to social services and programs such as mental health, housing and education, but Obama cautioned that activists should be clear about what they want to accomplish, instead of relying on catchy slogans.

“The key is, deciding do you want to actually get something done or do you wanna feel good among the people you already agree with?” he continued.

Following the interview, some Democratic politicians and social media users took to Twitter to disagree with Obama.

In a Twitter thread, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argued that no one paid attention to calls for police reforms until activists used the term “defund the police.”

“What if activists aren’t PR firms for politicians & their demands are bc police budgets are exploding, community resources are shrinking to bankroll it, & ppl brought this up for ages but it wasn’t until they said ‘defund’ that comfortable people started paying attn to brutality,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

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Missouri Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush wrote on Twitter the phrase is not a slogan, but a mandate: “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. It’s not a slogan. It’s a mandate for keeping our people alive. Defund the police.”

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar also agreed on Twitter: “We lose people in the hands of police. It’s not a slogan but a policy demand. And centering the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety.”

Still, others on social media sided with Obama.

Twitter user @Cfthomas51 replied back: “@BarackObama “Obama warns activists against using the phrase ‘defund the police,’ sparking criticism”. I AGREE! an unfortunate word in these times. I prefer “enhancing the police department” using Mental & Health care professionals as participants.”

Twitter user @estivel wrote: “I support BLM and police reform, but ‘Defund the Police’ is the dumbest counterproductive slogan I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t help. I understand the arguments of it because I have to study it. If your slogan has to be explained, it’s a bad slogan.”

Other leading figures of the Democratic Party have also questioned the effectiveness of the phrase, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who said it hurt some Democratic congressional candidates in the November election.

“‘Defund the police’ is killing our party, and we’ve got to stop it,” Clyburn said in an interview last month with CBS News streaming service, CBSN.

Clyburn added that Congressman John Lewis, who died in July, also had issues with the phrase.

“John Lewis and I were very concerned when these slogans came out about ‘defund the police,'” he said. “We sat together on the House floor and talked about how that slogan… could undermine the BLM movement, just as ‘burn, baby, burn’ destroyed our movement back in the ’60s.”