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Obama suggests slogans like 'defund the police' are counterproductive

One top Democrat said after the election that the movement likely cost some vulnerable House Democrats their seats.
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a Get Out the Vote rally as he campaigns for Joe Biden in Atlanta on Nov. 2, 2020.Elijah Nouvelage / AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama suggested in an interview that aired Wednesday that slogans like “defund the police” are counterproductive.

“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 in an interview with Peter Hamby on Snapchat’s “Good Luck America.”

The way police reform advocates might appeal to more people, Obama said, is if they present their plan with examples such as preventing young people from getting into crime or “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. “So the key is deciding, do you want to actually get something done, or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with? And if you want to get something done in a democracy, in a country as big and diverse as ours, then you've got to be able to meet people where they are. And play a game of addition and not subtraction.”

Calls to defund the police became much more pronounced over the summer following the death of George Floyd while he was in police custody. Activists for the group Black Lives Matter and some progressive lawmakers issued those calls as protests grew over police brutality and racism.

A number of top Democratic lawmakers have conveyed the same message about the slogan as Obama has. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said in an interview after the election last month that that movement likely cost some vulnerable House Democrats their seats.

Image: People gather during a protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, at Grand Army Plaza in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
A protester holds a sign that reads, "Defund the Police" during a protest in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 7, 2020.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters file

Obama also spoke during the interview about how socialism is “still a loaded term for a lot of folks” and it would be better to avoid labels and ideology and instead “focus on talking about getting certain things done.”

He also emphasized while talking about the future of the Democratic Party that “promoting young people is really important.”