Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay – Friday June 26, 2020
‘Defund the police’ movement hits semantics roadblock
Activists calling to “defund the police” are encountering early opposition to their slogan, with some supporters saying it’s confusing and others worrying the overall goal could be misinterpreted.
The phrase, which has become a rallying cry among some advocates during the George Floyd protests, broadly refers to cutting funds for law enforcement and redirecting them toward social programs, particularly those focused on crime prevention and alternative forms of public safety.
The slogan became an easy target for President Trump and other Republicans who have seized on the wording in an attempt to paint Democrats as supporting lawless communities. However, top Democrats, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), quickly distanced themselves from the phrase.
“The slogan may be misleading without interpretation,” Rev. Al Sharpton said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this past week, adding that he understood the phrase to be more about deep-rooted reform efforts.
“I don’t think anyone other than the far extremes are saying we don’t want any kind of policing at all,” he said.
But the need to explain the meaning behind the wording comes with its own set of critics.
“If you’re explaining, you’re losing, and there’s a lot of explaining going on,” Meghan McCain, a right-leaning commentator said on ABC’s “The View.”
“If you mean reform, say reform. If you mean defund, say defund. People are confused,” she added.
Evan Nierman, the CEO and founder of crisis communications PR firm Red Banyan, said the message has its pros and cons.
“The plus for them is that it’s a phrase that’s a call to action, it’s something tangible that they can demand. Rather than just saying ‘equal rights for all’ or ‘justice for all,’ we want this concrete thing,” he said.
But long-term, Nierman said he didn’t think it was a good slogan.
“It may be good at prompting a conversation, but the language is so extreme that it alienates. If they came up with something that more accurately portrays the policy, it might get more public support,” he said.
Some prominent activists and political leaders have pushed back on the idea that a grassroots slogan should be changed so that it has broader appeal.
“Lots of DC insiders are criticizing frontline activists over political feasibility and saying they need a new slogan. But poll-tested slogans and electoral feasibility is not the activists’ job. Their job is to organize support and transform public opinion, which they are doing,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted.
“And by the way, the fact that ppl are scrambling to repackage this whole conversation to make it palatable for largely affluent, white suburban ‘swing’ voters again points to how much more electoral & structural power these communities have relative to others,” she added. (The Hill)