Obama criticises use of ‘defund the police’ messages

James Crump
Former President Barack Obama speaking to April Ryan on Tuesday 1 December ((adr1600 - Instagram) )
Former President Barack Obama speaking to April Ryan on Tuesday 1 December ((adr1600 - Instagram) )

Former President Barack Obama has criticised the slogan “defund the police” and suggested white Americans are fearful that the African American community will “get out of control” with criticisms of the authorities.

Speaking to Peter Hamby of the Snapchat political show Good Luck America, which will air on Wednesday morning at 6am, Mr Obama said that people who use the slogan “defund the police” could make it harder to implement police reform.

“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 according to a preview of the interview obtained by Axios.

“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?” Mr Obama added.

The former president is not the first high-profile Democratic figure to criticise the term, as House majority whip James Clyburn told NBC News’ Meet the Press last month that he thinks the message hurt candidates’ vote share on 3 November’s election. There is currently no evidence to support this claim.

The message became widely used during the summer, following the death of unarmed Black man George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers.

Floyd’s death sparked calls to “defund the police” across the US, with protesters urging local government to reallocate funds for police departments to social services for minority communities, according to The Hill.

In a separate interview with CNN analyst April Ryan on Tuesday, to promote his new memoir A Promised Land, Mr Obama spoke about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, while discussing race in America.

Mr Gates Jr, 70, an African American man, was arrested in 2009 after one of his neighbours called the police when the professor struggled to get into his house, claiming that they thought it was a break-in.

Despite the police officer, sergeant James Crowley, acknowledging that Mr Gates Jr showed identification that proved he lived at the address, the professor was still arrested for “disorderly conduct” after he reacted angrily to being questioned inside his own home.

During the exchange, Mr Crowley reportedly asked him to step outside, causing Mr Gates Jr to reply: “Why, because I'm a Black man in America?”

Mr Obama spoke about the incident with Ms Ryan on Tuesday, saying: “I commented during a press conference … about the fact that ‘well you know I think the Cambridge police probably acted stupidly in arresting somebody in their own home, a 60-year-old man that posed no threat.’

“And this became a big controversy.” He continued: “Just the fact that I was seen as questioning the police … really upset a bunch of folks and I think it indicated the degree to which the issue of police relations with minority communities, and the Black community in particular, is always a hot topic.”

Mr Obama added: “It is something that unearths or escalates fears within the white population that somehow the African American community is going to get out of control in some way or is not respecting authority.”

The former president then told Ms Ryan that the Black community is looking for “good and fair policing,” but warned that President-elect Joe Biden will not be able fix racial tensions in the US during his time in office.

However, Mr Obama added that Mr Biden will “set a tone of inclusion” and “send a message that racism is not acceptable”.

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