Former President Barack Obama is shunned by progressive party leaders after saying in an interview On Wednesday, political candidates who use “catchy” slogans such as “defund the police” could jeopardize their campaign goals on police reform and even lose grassroots support.
“You lost a large following as soon as you said it, which made it much less likely that you would get the changes you wanted,” Obama told Peter Hamby, who hosts Good luck in America, a Snapchat political show. “The key is to decide, do you really want to do something or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with?”
Obama’s words agree with other Democrats as Jim Clyburn House Representative and Senator Mark Warner, who see the phrase as damaging to the party, arguing that Republicans used the slogan against Democrats during the election, resulting in losses in the House. However, more progressive members of Congress, including newly elected representatives. Cori bush from Missouri and Jamaal bowman of New York, repelled against this notion. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – not to mention the name of the former president – also countered in a tweet that messages like “defund the police” have indeed been effective.
“What the activists’ critics do not get is that they have tried to play the political game of ‘polite language’ and all it has done is make them easier to ignore,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “It wasn’t until they made people uncomfortable that there was a pull to do EVERYTHING, even if it wasn’t their full demands.
The purpose of the protest is to make people uncomfortable.
Activists take this discomfort with the status quo and advocate for concrete political changes. Popular support often starts out small and grows.
For people who complain, protest demands make others uncomfortable … that’s the point.
– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 2, 2020
Following the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the words “defund the police” could be seen on protesters’ signs and heard in chants in American streets, the idea being to withdraw from the money from the large budgets of the police and social services and other community services. Although Americans seem more favorable to the idea of defunding than to the formulation itself, according to several polls, police change demands again led to the adoption of a series of ballot police reform measures in November.
While the police strike-off move comes to naught and its future – and impact on – the Democratic Party platform remains to be seen, what many find disappointing in Obama’s comments is that it minimizes “a political demand”. as suggested by representative Ilhan Omar, when “we are losing people to the police”.
However, given Obama’s message and position on policing historically, his current criticism of defunding should come as no surprise. The former president has a habit of siding with the moderate side of his party – condemning police shootings against blacks, while praising the hard work of the police.
Obama’s race and law enforcement record in America
President Obama’s recent comments while promoting his recent book are consistent with what he said earlier this summer. In his statement of May 29 after the death of George Floyd, Obama declared that the solution to “the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment” involves everyone, regardless of race or class, and this includes “the majority of men and women women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their hard work, the right way, every day.
This drew criticism from a number of activists. In a letter to Obama, published in The Intercept, Chenjerai Kumanyika – a researcher and assistant professor of journalism at Rutgers University – wrote a rebuttal saying that the former president’s statement reveals a “fundamental misunderstanding” about the role law enforcement plays in American society.
“By presenting it this way during this time, I guess you are trying to avoid alienating the police officers who consider themselves and their work a force for good,” Kumanyika wrote. “But it’s frustrating to see you, a hugely influential African-American public figure, refusing to make a more serious, historical and political attack on what police work really is – and how it contributes to our oppression.
Obama tends to walk a fine line when it comes to race and policing, gaining criticism from both sides of the aisle. It recognizes the difficult and dangerous work of police officers, while highlighting the systemic and racial inequalities embedded in the fabric of the criminal justice system.
When Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Florida in 2013, Obama gave a personal and moving speech highlighting the grim reality that he and the rest of the black community face every day. “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago”, he said in the White House briefing room that year, adding that if Martin had been a “white teenager,” “from top to bottom, the outcome and consequences might have been different.” He echoed the same message in the murders of other black men in the years to come.
Shit, Mr. Chairman.
Didn’t you say “Trayvon could have been my son?”
In 2014, #BlackLivesMatter it was too much.
In 2016, Kaepernick was too much.
Today, discussing police budgets is too much.
The problem is America’s comfort with the black death – not the discomfort with the slogans. https://t.co/DJUSZebgW5
– Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) December 2, 2020
And yet, after a grand jury dismissed an indictment for the death of Michael Brown in 2014, Obama said, “our police officers put their lives on the line for us every day.” Weeks later, after a New York grand jury also refused to lay charges against the police who killed Eric Garner, Obama again reiterated that “law enforcement has an incredibly difficult job.” He made the same statement again in 2015 after violence erupted in Baltimore, following the death of Freddie Gray.
With all due respect, Mr President, let’s talk about losing people. We lost Michael Brown Jr. We lost Breonna Taylor. We are losing our loved ones to police violence.
It is not a slogan. It is a mandate to keep our people alive. Defund the police. https://t.co/Wsxp1Y1bBi
– Cori Bush (@CoriBush) December 2, 2020
Meanwhile, some of his more conservative critics claim that all Obama does is “hate copsAnd did not do enough to support the police during his tenure, even though his actions prove otherwise. For example, when five police officers were killed in Dallas, Texas in 2016, Obama, his speech at a memorial, criticized activists calling for police reform, stressing that defenders tend to blame all law enforcement for the irresponsible actions of some police officers.
The Obama administration has sought to implement some reforms in the police and prisons. For example, in 2014, after Brown’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner’s fatal suffocation in New York City, Obama launched the The President’s Task Force on Policing in the 21st Century, which demanded that all killings by police be investigated by independent prosecutors. The task force also called for an end to “stop and frisk” or any racial profiling by police – which presents a much more difficult implementation.
While Obama’s recent remarks have drawn criticism from the left, the former president has at least remained consistent with his message. But some can still expect a change now that he no longer has to woo all parts of the American public from the presidential office.