What Obama Gets Wrong on 'Defund the Police'Roundup
tags: Barack Obama, Police, Black lives matter, Law Enforcement
Austin McCoy is an assistant professor of history at Auburn University. He is writing a book on post-1960s movements for participatory democracy in criminal justice, foreign policy, and economics.
When former President Barack Obama warned Democrats against using a "snappy slogan" like "defund the police," the backlash from progressives was swift.
"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 told Peter Hamby on Snapchat's "Good Luck America" earlier this month.
Cori Bush, who made history last month by becoming the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress, tweeted, "It's not a slogan. It's a mandate for keeping our people alive."
Jamaal Bowman, the newly elected US representative for New York, wrote, "In 2014, #BlackLivesMatter was too much. In 2016, Kaepernick was too much. Today, discussing police budgets is too much. The problem is America's comfort with Black death -- not discomfort with slogans."
It's been 12 years since Obama was first elected, and the misguided hope ushered in by that event -- that America had become a "post-racial" society -- soon gave way to reality. The movement for racial justice took root during Obama's second term as thousands of Americans protested the police killings of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Aura Rosser, Tamir Rice and others, reaching a fever pitch this summer after another string of highly publicized incidents of police brutality.
While African Americans have consistently supported the Democratic Party in large numbers throughout this time, there's a growing segment of young Black folks and progressives from all backgrounds who have become increasingly skeptical of the piecemeal and narrow approach to addressing police brutality that characterized much of the Obama era.
There's good reason for people to question the former president's approach. Despite the task force Obama put together on policing in 2014, and the adoption of reforms, including anti-bias training and the expanded use of body cameras, the number of police killings has remained largely the same each year.
We are six months out from the protests and momentum has slowed. Where do we go from here? First, it is important to recognize that a true "reckoning" not only requires a deep, collective introspection about our history of structural racism, but also a "revolution of values," described by activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Grace Lee Boggs as a shift in our principles towards a more fair and just society -- for everyone, especially the most marginalized. A true reckoning with racism should inspire us to seek new and transformative ways of performing justice that are grounded in more non-violent and community-based approaches to public safety.