Barack Obama explained his issue with the “defund the police” slogan during “The Daily Show” Tuesday, a saying that the former POTUS was criticized for criticizing over the summer as it became popular amid the resurgence of Black Lives Matters protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“I have consistently believed that their courage, activism, media-savvy, strategic resolve, far exceeds anything I could have done at their age and I think has shifted the conversation in ways that I would not have even imagined a couple of years ago,” Obama told “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah of the Black Lives Matter activists he’s seen leading the cause. “So throughout this slew of compliments I then said, well, what do you think about the particular slogan ‘defund the police’? And I said, well, that particular slogan, I think the concern is there may be potential allies out there that you lose. And the issue always is, how do you get enough people to support your cause that you can actually institutionalize it and translate it into laws
Obama continued: “There are two or three writers, who I admired, who wrote, ‘Obama is making it a mission to chastise Black Lives Matter.’ And you go, what? Hold on a second, I just spent the whole summer complimenting them. What are you talking about? The reason it caught attention, I suspect, is there are some in the Democratic party who suggested the reason we didn’t do better in the congressional elections this time around was because of this phrase. And I think that people assumed that somehow I was making an argument that that’s why we didn’t get a bigger Democratic majority. That actually was not the point I was making.”
He explained: “I was making a very particular point around, if we, in fact, want to translate the very legitimate belief that how we do policing needs to change and that if there is, for example, a homeless guy ranting and railing in the middle of the street, sending a mental health worker rather than an armed, untrained police officer to deal with that person, might be a better outcome for all of us and make us safer. If we describe that to not just white folks, but let’s say, Michelle’s mom, that makes sense to them. But if we say ‘defund the police,’ not just white folks, but Michelle’s mom, might say, ‘If I’m getting robbed, who am I going to call and is somebody going to show up?’ So the issue here becomes, at any given time, how are we translating and using language not to make people more ‘comfortable’ because that’s always a strain and historically, the concern in these debates is often, are we just trying to make white people comfortable rather than speaking truth to power? That’s the framework we tend to think about these things. The issue to me is not making them comfortable, it is, can we be precise with our language enough that people who might be persuaded around that particular issue to make a particular change that gets a particular result that we want — what’s the best way for us to describe that?”
Noah asked Obama if what he meant was that we should all be running our slogans by former FLOTUS Michelle Obama, who Barack says endorsed his “Yes We Can” slogan when we didn’t care for it.
“That probably would be wise,” Obama said, laughing.
Watch Noah’s full interview with the former president above.