Is Obama right to caution activists from using "Defund the Police?"


Fact Box

  • The death of George Floyd sparked outrage throughout the United States, from protests to civil unrest in all states. 
  • Defund the police” supports the redirecting of funds from the police into other government agencies, like social service to improve overall “mental health, addiction, and homelessness.” It does not mean to eradicate the police force. 
  • According to Mapping Police Violence, police have killed 986 people in 2020, and of those, “Black people have been 28% of those despite being 13% of the population.”
  • NCBI states that victims of police violence were mostly white, but disproportionately Black (32%) with higher chances of fatality. Black victims were 14.8% more likely to be unarmed than white or Hispanic victims. 
  • Former President Obama recently denounced the slogan “defund the police” saying catchy phrases do more harm than good for political candidates. He said, “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.”

Kevin (No)

Obama may not have used the same words, but his message seems rooted in the same belief as that of other establishment Democrats, who attempted to blame progressives and 'socialism' for their poor performance in the election. However, as Rashida Tlaib pointed out, Democrats in swing districts 'who openly supported progressive policies' did much better. He and others would have activists change their messaging to be more about reform, but such 'reform' has historically been part of the problem.

American policing as it exists is 'a system that was built to abuse power,' and as Stuart Schrader describes in The Nation, attempts at reform tend to serve only to whitewash the image of police, while simultaneously giving them more power, and often leading to giving them greater shares of budgets. This cycle creates the opposite of the intended effect. Alex Vitale, author of The End Of Policing, explains that this is 'because of the nature of policing itself.' In an excerpt from the book appearing in Yes! Magazine, he tells how researchers examining the issues found that measures such as 'cultural sensitivity training' have had 'no impact,' not necessarily because of any bias held by individual officers, 'but because institutional pressures remain intact.'

Another thing to consider is that, when it comes to matters of injustice such as this, whether or not an idea is unpopular is beside the point. As activists themselves have noted on Twitter and elsewhere, there was a time when the idea of abolishing slavery wasn't popular, either.

Bill (Yes)

Obama is right to caution activists against using the slogan 'Defund the Police.' Chief among the reasons to reject this radical catchphrase is that it's out-of-step with a lawful and peaceful society. To advocate for defunding the police is to invite anarchy. We saw this recently unfold in Seattle when protesters occupied a six-block section of the city, closed a police precinct, and refused entry to first responders. This tragic capitulation to violent rioters led to weeks of mayhem, destruction, and two deaths. It's no wonder that only 15% of Americans support defunding the police.

The 'Defund the Police' movement is based on a false narrative--that police kill a large and disproportionate number of unarmed Blacks. In 2019, there were a total of 14 unarmed Black victims of police shootings (and this number reflects a downward trend of 63% since 2015); this represents a mere .2% of all fatal Black shooting victims. These numbers simply do not support the erroneous and inflammatory claims by members of congress, like Ayanna Pressley, who says, 'The murders of generations of unarmed Black folks by police have been horrific… Lives are at stake daily.'

The 'Defund the Police' slogan is a distraction from real problems facing the Black community--perhaps most troubling is that three times as many Black boys (compared to Whites) grow up in homes headed by a mother only. Tragically, single-parent households are more likely to live in poverty than two-parent households (i.e., 27% to 16% respectively). Obama is right to discourage activists from pushing the dangerous and divisive 'Defund the Police' mantra.

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