Former President Barack Obama suggested in a new interview that “defund the police” was little more than a “snappy slogan” that polarized many Americans and was ineffectual at producing broader reforms to the criminal justice system in the United States.
In an interview that aired Wednesday on Snapchat’s “Good Luck America,” Obama likened young activists to shoe companies marketing sneakers or musicians promoting their records, arguing that such efforts to galvanize commercial support are “no different in terms of ideas.”
“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 lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done,” Obama said.
“The key is deciding, do you want to actually get something done, or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with?” he added. “And if you want to get something done in a democracy, in a country as big and diverse as ours, then you’ve got to be able to meet people where they are. And play a game of addition and not subtraction.”
The former president is the latest prominent Democratic leader to express disapproval of the politically divisive phrase, which gained greater recognition over the summer amid nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Supporters of defunding the police have called for taxpayer dollars to be redirected away from law enforcement and toward mental health services and other social safety net resources.
President Donald Trump and down-ballot Republicans seized on calls to defund the police ahead of the 2020 election in an effort to paint Democrats as anti-law enforcement and insufficiently tough on looters and rioters.
And following disappointing finishes last month by Democratic House and Senate candidates in competitive races across the country, many members of the party blamed the GOP messaging for their losses, contending that Democrats did not do enough to distance themselves from “defund the police” rhetoric.
Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activists who support systemic changes to law enforcement have pushed back against Democratic accusations that “defund the police” cost the party at the polls.
Democratic congressional leaders including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) have rejected the phrase, as has President-elect Joe Biden — who pointedly said he does not support defunding police and campaigned on a criminal justice plan calling for an additional $300 million in funding to police departments.