Members of the self-styled Democratic “Squad” responded to President Barack Obama’s criticism of the slogan “Defund the Police” — which also prompted a mixture of strong reactions from other political and media figures on Twitter.
President Obama’s comments — published in part Tuesday night, but aired in full Wednesday morning on Peter Hamby’s Good Luck America show on Snapchat — included a pragmatic critique of the slogan, along with support for the reforms its adherents promote.
“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 going to get the changes you want done,” Obama said in one portion of the interview.
Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar clapped back at Obama by explaining that the slogan is “not a slogan.”
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
Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley compellingly argued against critiquing the “language of activists,” and added that “Whatever a grieving family says is their truth.”
The murders of generations of unarmed Black folks by police have been horrific. Lives are at stake daily so I’m out of patience with critiques of the language of activists.
Whatever a grieving family says is their truth.
And I’ll never stop fighting for their justice & healing.
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) December 2, 2020
Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib defended activism, invoking civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.
Rosa Parks was vilified & attacked for her civil disobedience. She was targeted. It’s hard seeing the same people who uplift her courage, attack the movement for Black lives that want us to prioritize health, funding of schools & ending poverty, rather than racist police systems.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) December 2, 2020
Missouri Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush also argued that “Defund the Police” isn’t a slogan.
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. https://t.co/Wsxp1Y1bBi
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) December 2, 2020
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has not weighed in on President Obama’s comments [UPDATE: Congresswoman has now weighed in. See end of post for AOC’s response) but has been embroiled in her own feud with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin over the issue.
Obama’s comments spurred a flood of reactions from other figures on Twitter, many of whom ironically focused on the “snappy slogan” line, when the crux of the criticism isn’t the snappiness, but the mismatch between the slogan’s plain meaning — which is to prevent the police from continuing to receive funds — and the more palatable policy demands that many of its adherents list in their lengthy explanations of it.
It’s a bit like explaining that “Stab All Babies” is simply an activist call to vaccinate infants against deadly diseases, why do you hate babies and want them to die?
And while the message has been expanded to include policy reforms, the goal of many “Defund the Police” organizers actually is to actually abolish the police.
Others were supportive of Obama’s message, while still others trolled him over his own use of actually “snappy” slogans like “Yes, We Can,” and many saw the remarks as an assault on activism.
— Ben LaBolt (@BenLaBolt) December 2, 2020
President Obama is right. “Defund the police” is a terribly ineffective slogan. Most of the public thinks it means something entirely different than what the people using the slogan think it means. That’s always a sign that you need to find a different slogan.
— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) December 2, 2020
Perry making the impt point: hand wringing abt the alleged ineffectiveness of slogans like defund the police come from electeds or pundits who only see change thru electoral politics. That is not the goal of many activists. They are not setting out to help Dems win elections https://t.co/gUy2AJp2XG
— Steadman™ (@AsteadWesley) December 2, 2020
The slogan Defund the Police, like Black Lives Matter in 2014, created a dialogue that turned some people off–even some black ones. Since all black movements are linked to the Dems, I have no doubt these slogans, particularly Defund, were not helpful to Dems electorally.
— Perry Bacon Jr. (@perrybaconjr) December 2, 2020
Which people did we lose? Michael Brown Breonna Taylor George Floyd https://t.co/1AYLve4kHG
— Aimee Allison (@aimeeallison) December 2, 2020
It’s not the job of activists to elect Democrats; their job is to push for social change, which can include but isn’t limited to policy. The enemy isn’t progressive Dems; it’s the right-wing machine that lies about what candidates actually believe. https://t.co/uuWqPCOIbu https://t.co/na0cKZdM9e
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) December 2, 2020
We didn’t lose Breonna because of a slogan.
Instead of conceding this narrative, let’s shape our own. It’s time we listen to the people, organize and build coalitions around our own message, and cast a vision that inspires us all to lead for change at the ballot box and beyond. https://t.co/mBg7wanaR6
— Charles Booker (@Booker4KY) December 2, 2020
Eh, he’s right. But this is Twitter so he’s wrong. https://t.co/W1pZCtsrus
— M’BlockU (@rodimusprime) December 2, 2020
— Felonious Munk 🇪🇹 (@Felonious_munk) December 2, 2020
But no major Dem politician said defund so…? https://t.co/rh3mTXK8me
— Young Daddy (@Toure) December 2, 2020
Your slogans were
“Yes We Can”
I’m tired of this messaging convo, I’m tired of how it’s used to distract from the work people did and are doing
And I’m tired of everybody involved making a loss out of a win https://t.co/eHMltsfVLl
— 🇬🇾🗽Sydette the DreadGorgon🇬🇾 🗽 (@Blackamazon) December 2, 2020
This is conventional wisdom, why would anyone be shocked Obama subscribers to it, even if it’s empirically untrue https://t.co/SR4QRMQgj4
— Jason Johnson (@DrJasonJohnson) December 2, 2020
100%. It was a gift to Trump. And one that hurt down-ballot Dems badly. Especially with independents. https://t.co/7vkVG2UO1k
— Paul Rieckhoff (@PaulRieckhoff) December 2, 2020
Belittling grassroots strategy and demands is a real winner though.👍🏿 https://t.co/7VhV4IaArd
— African 👼🏿 Angel (@Tia_Oso) December 2, 2020
— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) December 2, 2020
As I was saying, if you have to explain its ineffective. Branding sadly matters. https://t.co/iszmhKIhlx
— Maysoon (@maysoonzayid) December 2, 2020
for all the complaints about “defund the police,” valid or not, i still dont see anybody coming up with an alternative slogan/branding. maybe do that instead of stupidly blaming election losses on a slogan nobody running for office used.
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) December 2, 2020
i keep saying “For defund the police organizers” because i am not one of those people. I’m the abortion lady.
Please follow (without annoying) these organizers and listen to what they are saying. And stop rewriting what their goals are because abolition makes you uncomfortable.
— 🎅🏿Imani Gandy Cane🎅🏿 (@AngryBlackLady) December 2, 2020
Barack Obama turned off the same people who would be turned off by a “snappy” slogan “Defund the Police” w/ The Beer Summit.
Black diplomacy will NEVER be enough for White people not willing to recognize our lives, our marginalization, our advancing toward an equitable society
— 𝐄𝐱𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐫 𝐏𝐨𝐩𝐞 (@exavierpope) December 2, 2020
President-elect Joe Biden has also rejected the slogan, and consistently expressed support for the reforms Obama mentioned, and proposes using increased funding as an incentive for change. Nevertheless, President Donald Trump ran a slew of false ads claiming the opposite, and portraying a nightmare America where reports of rape and murder are diverted to a voicemail at an empty police station.
Update: AOC has also weighed in.
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
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 2, 2020
The whole point of protesting is to make ppl uncomfortable.
Activists take that discomfort w/ the status quo & advocate for concrete policy changes. Popular support often starts small & grows.
To folks who complain protest demands make others uncomfortable… that’s the point.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 2, 2020
Watch Obama’s remarks above via Good Luck America.
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