To Defund or Not to Defund?

Dr. Munr Kazmir
4 min readDec 2, 2020

Semantics, the future of policing in America, and Barack Obama.

President of the United States of America Barack Obama came to Estonia. Among other things he gave a speech in Nordea Concert Hall. September 3, 2014. (photo: Johan Viirok)

Former President Barack Obama: Defunding the Police “lost a big audience”. Defund-police organizers, supporters and activists: “We are not going away.”

Former U.S. President Barack Obama recently cautioned Democratic activists, organizations, and politicians about using “snappy” slogans like “Defund the Police”.

“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,” the former president said in an interview with Peter Hamby. Hamby hosts a popular Snapchat political talk-show called “Good Luck America.”

Former-president Obama went on to say that if activists were to instead say “‘let’s reform the police department so that everybody’s being treated fairly, you know, divert young people from getting into crime, and 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 noted that it’s key for activists to decide whether they want to “actually get something done” and have their message to reach people who disagree with them, in order to persuade and influence, or just “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,” he added, and “play a game of addition and not subtraction.”

The former president is only the latest prominent Democrat to express disapproval for the divisive slogan, which gained prominence during the nationwide protests against police brutality that followed the killing of George Floyd by police officers in May.

Many top Democrats have voiced their support for changes to policing practices but have also warned that the phrase is harmful to the movement.