Former President Barack Obama is cautioning activists against using slogans like “defund the police” to achieve policy changes.
Obama spoke with Peter Hamby on Snapchat’s “Good Luck America” and was responding to a question about activists who use “defund the police” as a rallying cry.
"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.
Instead, Obama encouraged them to have a more inclusive discussion with all stakeholders.
“If you instead say, 'Let's reform the police department so that everybody's being treated fairly, you know, divert young people from getting into crime, and if there was a homeless guy, can maybe we send a mental health worker there instead of an armed unit that could end up resulting in a tragedy?' Suddenly, a whole bunch of folks who might not otherwise listen to you are listening to you,” Obama said.
Top elected Democrats, including president-elect Joe Biden and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, have said publicly they support changes to policing practices but warned the phrase “defund the police” -- which calls for redirecting some municipal funds from police departments toward social welfare programs -- could be harmful.
Many progressives, however, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have often repeated the phrase.
In response to Obama’s interview, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a close ally of Ocasio-Cortez, tweeted a sharp rebuke.
“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,” Rep. Omar’s tweet reads.
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. https://t.co/Vu6inw4ms7
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) December 2, 2020
Obama also had a message to the Democratic party during the interview, to embrace younger members of the party, “promoting young people is really important,” and to focus on “getting certain things done.”