Things That Matter

President Obama Warns About Political Backlash From Using Phrase ‘Defund The Police’

Update December 3, 2020

Americans protested in mass this summer against police brutality and racil injustice at the hands of police. George Floyd’s death sparked days of unrest in major cities across the country and “Defund The Police” became a common phrase. No, post-election, President Obama is arguing that a different phrase is needed for the idea.

President Barack Obama spoke recently and had some thoughts on “Defund The Police” and AOC’s place in Democratic politics.

“Defund The Police,” while a digestible size, oversimplifies a complex issue. President Obama argues that using that phrase has alienated voters and led to the 2020 election results.

“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 told Peter Hamby on Snapchat’s “Good Luck America.”

Obama continues to say that activists need to adopt language that gets the message across in a clear way. Yet, the messaging has to leave no room to be misconstrued by a the other side.

President Obama is also championing more time and attention to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. President Obama is encouraging the Democratic Party to give AOC more space because she is bringing in and speaking to a much broader, younger base. His chief critique is that AOC was given so little time at the DNC. What we really need, according to President Obama, is more attention for the younger members.

Original: It’s no secret – the U.S. is at a reflection point. For generations, Black Americans have had to endure a system built to support and encourage white supremacy. Unarmed black man after unarmed black man have been harassed by white Americans and shot dead by police, leading to mass protests across the country.

However, this time seems different. The fatal arrest of George Floyd sparked an unprecedented, nationwide response that’s included peaceful protests, violent clashes involving overzealous cops, incidents of looting — and demands from activists to “defund the police.”

But what does “defund the police” mean? It’s not necessarily about gutting police department budgets.

George Floyd’s murder has led to a rapid shift in thinking about the role police play in cities across the country. The phrase “Defund the police” has entered the mainstream but it’s also stirred up plenty of controversy and become a rallying cry against Democrats for those on the right.

As the protests have gathered in strength and size, more and more people are talking about defunding, dismantling, abolishing, and reimagining what police forced should look like.

Defunding the police is shorthand for a divest and invest model: divesting money from local and state police budgets and reinvesting it into communities, mental health services, and social service programs – so that there is less need for actual police officers.

Most experts agree that police are currently tasked with too many different jobs – which contributes to outsized police budgets.

Credit: Roberto Schmidt / Getty

It’s no secret that America has come to rely on it’s more than 18,000 police agencies to do a lot more than actual police work. Officers these days are charged with fighting terrorism, acting as liaisons with homeless communities, working with children in school, responding to calls for mental health crises, performing welfare checks and social work, mediating domestic disputes, and responding to drug overdoses. Most of the time, officers have no training in any of these situations which can lead to conflicts.

As the police take on more work, their budgets have also grown substantially. The U.S. spends an estimated $100 billion on their police forces annually, with another $80 billion spent on incarceration. Policing typically accounts for one-third to 60% of American cities’ annual budgets. 

Those who call for police defunding say they would rather have some duties handled by nonviolent specialists trained in social work, education, or drug counseling.

From New York to LA, some cities are already taking measures to redirect police department budgets. But will it be enough?

For example, in New York City, the NYPD enjoys a $6 billion budget. Yes, that’s billion with a B. It’s easily takes up the largest chunk of the city’s budget. In fact, the NYPD gets more money than homeless services, housing development and upkeep, youth and community services, health and hospitals, and parks and recreation combined.  

In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday pledged to shift an unspecified amount of the NYPD’s $6 billion annual budget to “youth initiatives and social services,” saying, “Policing matters for sure, but the investments in our youth are foundational.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also said last week he would cut the city’s police budget by as much as $150 million to help fund $250 million for youth jobs, health initiatives and “peace centers” — reversing an April plan to increase spending on the LAPD by 7 percent.

Why not just reform police and provide more training?

Credit: Ragan Clark / Getty

Those who are against defunding the police say that advocated should focus on legal oversight and reform. But it’s become obvious over decades of police brutality and systemic racism, that police reform and new regulations and laws cannot and have not stopped the police from illegally killing citizens.

You have to look no further than the city of Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered by the city’s police. The city had instituted major reforms in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri protests and President Obama’s task force. New rules implemented by the city required bias and de-escalation training and the use of body cameras. It tightened its use-of-force standards, diversified its leadership, and started collecting demographic data. In 2015, it spent $4.75 million on a project led by procedural reformer Phillip Atiba Goff to strengthen the ties between the police and community.

And yet George Floyd, and so many others, are still dead.

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