“Defund the Police” Means “Defund the Police”
“Defund the Police” means “Defund the Police”. Folks don’t need to “rebrand” the phrase. We don’t need to make it palatable for a broader audience. I don’t care what prominent Negro you cite who thinks the phrase is too “harsh”. It means what it means and the creators said what they said.
You likely already know how I feel about this phenomenon of tone-policing activists’ phrases, since I previously wrote about tone-policing activists. You also likely know that I have no qualms reiterating this sentiment, as even my essay about tone policing was TONE POLICED IN THE COMMENTS.
Absolutely NO ONE, especially people who have been sitting on the sidelines while others have been organizing, lobbying, petitioning, marching, and risking their lives and jobs for this cause, has any business suggesting how to re-word anything related to the Movement. Besides that, “Defund the police” is not a snappy slogan, as a certain former President described it. It is a simple, direct demand. Police budgets keep inflating as other municipal budgets shrink. Despite that, police resolution rate of violent crimes is abysmal, and they continue to criminalize people trying to get by for minor infractions, especially Black and Brown folks.
The second I heard Barack Obama say that he was not a fan of the phrase, “Defund the Police”, I knew that so-called progressives would latch onto it. And the Audacity (no pun intended) of a president whose first campaign boasted vapid phrases of “Hope” and “Change” is galling to say the least. As much as they claim to be not racist, many progressives are as guilty as open racists of thinking that Black folks are Borg and must all conform to one thought. Forget the fact that Black folks in America come from all corners of the African Continent, we all have been raised in different ways, have been taught different values, and live our lives in different manners. Despite the stereotypes, we are as diverse in thought and upbringing as white people, so to think, “Well Obama says..”, is derisive.
I have much respect for what President Obama endured and achieved, but he is not above criticism. The only thing he achieved this time was to give “well-meaning” white folks a much needed token to check and excuse their admonishing of folks who have been threatened, beaten and killed on their path to equality. Before Obama, there were memes circulating that start with “Instead of ‘Defund’, Say…”. None of them hold weight with me. People who are okay with police blinding nonviolent protesters with tear gas and exploding pepper pellets and then believing the next-day city press conferences full of lies about protesters throwing cans of soup and frozen water bottles will not be swayed by any flowery wording. Defund the Police means what it means. The police have too much money, and actual measures that have been shown to reduce crime, like fixing roads, investing in public transportation, funding public education, investing in art and culture, are losing money.
Since the summer, there had to have been at least 50 articles a month explaining exactly what “Defund the police” means, how it can be executed without compromising public safety, and examples of how it has worked in the real world. There is no excuse for Barack Obama, or anyone for that matter, to admonish the organizers of today for their elocution of phrases, especially since this generation of activists is so direct.
Black Lives Matter.
Yes All Women.
Words are not minced, yet for each of these phrases, people have over-interpreted and misconstrued their meanings in order to demonize the movements. Even with a phrase as simple as “Black Lives Matter”, “well meaning” white people told me that it would be more “palpable” if maybe we added “Too” at the end. When people see just “Black Lives Matter”, they see, “ONLY Black Lives Matter”, and “White Lives Don’t Matter”, and “Black Lives Better”. Adding “Too” at the end wouldn’t change anyone’s mind. These egregious misinterpretations don’t stem from the phrase, but from years of socialized and codified hatred of Black people, and the fear of collapse of white supremacy. The only thing that “Black Lives Matter” means is that Black Lives Matter.
Perhaps this distortion is a form of projection. Progressive phrases today are direct and to the point. However, phrases like “All Lives Matter” and “Make America Great Again” are so full of dog whistles and doublespeak by design that the folks who use them likely think that all phrases have double meaning. Since the 1950s and 1960s, outright saying that you don’t like a certain group of people because of their skin color was going out of fashion, so regressives used code words to mean what they say. The Southern Strategy turned all the conservative Dixiecrats into Republicans, able to rest on the laurels of Lincoln’s accomplishments while still belittling People of Color with abandon. Lee Atwater summed it up best:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” Lee Atwater
This method yielded us not just phrases like “states’ rights” and “black on black crime”, but also suppressive actions like “voter ID” laws and “stop and frisk”. Interestingly, it is a method of rebranding that David Duke and Don Blake harnessed to make white supremacy mainstream again. Conversely, “Defund the police” means just what it says.
The justifications for giving police more money every year are questionable. Ijeoma Oluo recalled on the Politically Re-Active podcast how she and a group toured a Seattle police station, and they explained that they needed more money to house their SWAT gear and for more space to house underage suspected offenders and a larger gun range. The simple alternative would have been to NOT shoot people or arrest children or beat them with para-military equipment. Imagine if I demanded that I have an extension built on my house because there is so much stuff in my room that I cannot see the floor. I could easily just clean my room. If I am bad at doing the job that I advertise I do, I don’t get a raise every year to continue to do a poor job. Defund the police. We said what we said.
About Chris Thompson
(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog he currently writes and regularly posts on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon. Chris is also a regular contributor for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is http://www.chroniclesofnonesense.com
Still thinking about how you can practice antiracism in your every day life?
Your support goes directly to providing new, dynamic & affordable class content, the planning of a rigorous antiracism facilitation training program, and costs associated with maikng all of our classes Deaf accessible with ASL interpreters.
- Visit our blog for over 700 social justice focused posts from our Founding Director, contributing writer Chris Thompson, and various guest writers.
- Check out our on-demand class library to learn about structural racism, environmental justice, and more.
Knowledge is power, educate yourself with 540WMain