Barack Obama clarifies his criticism of 'defund the police': 'Not the point I was making'

Stephen Proctor
·2 min read

Former President Barack Obama appeared Tuesday on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah where his comments earlier in the month critical of the effort to “defund the police.”

In a Dec. 1 interview with Peter Hamby, host of the Snapchat political show Good Luck America, Obama referred to “defund the police” as a “snappy slogan,” and said, “You [lose] a big audience the minute you say it.” He received a sharp rebuke from some progressive Democrats, but on Tuesday, explained that he wasn’t criticizing the movement, just the way the message was expressed.

“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,” Obama said. “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… 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?’”

Obama pointed out that one of the issues behind the movement for “defund the police” is the desire to have a mental health professional, not an armed police officer, respond to mental health crises. And he said those kinds of ideas that are behind the movement just need to be more clearly conveyed to the public.

“The issue here becomes, at any given time, how are we translating and using language, not to make people more comfortable, quote unquote, right? Because that’s always a strain, and, historically, the concern in these debates is often ‘Oh, 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,” Obama said. “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?”

The Daily Show With Trevor Noah airs weeknights at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central.

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