When strategizing empowerment, there are words with friends and there are words with public domain. While your words reflect personal perspective they sometimes come with the trajectory of a defining movement. Either way, your words can be used against you.
For better or worse, we’ve been conditioned to truncate missions into hashtags, which are designed to easily unify the like-minded. The hashtag becomes the identity. Often the selected slogan is interpreted literally. The reaction it receives has limited bandwidth for nuance or complicated issues.
Currently, there’s friction within the Democratic Party over whether use of the term “Defund the Police” cost them seats in Congress. The phrase was a popularized by-product of the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests. It was one of many chants used to demand change in law enforcement. However, it was the one that had the most blowback. In late September, after the Kentucky Attorney General’s press conference announcing a lack of criminal charges for the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s murder, NBA commentator Charles Barkley used his TNT platform to say the following:
“You know, I hear these fools on TV talking about ‘defund the police’ and things like that. We need police reform and prison reform and things like that. Because you know, who ain’t gonna defund the cops? White neighborhoods and rich neighborhoods. So that notion they keep saying that – I’m like, wait a minute. Who are Black people supposed to call? Ghostbusters?”
The “fools on TV” can also be described as passionate, intelligent activists such as Ty Hobson-Powell who explains “defund the police” as such:
You can’t rule by violent oppression, ignore decades of formal requests for change, double down on bloodshed and then demand decorum as a pre-requisite response. To place value on a word correlated to money but dismiss words connected to life, breath and civility is a toxic insult. Police will use harmful counter-protest tactics whether the people are dressed in streetwear or your Sunday best. That’s how oppression works. It pretends it’s willing to consider reform but blames the people for not saying the magic word. It then co-opts your language to create a binary option of extremes, or “Ghostbuster” sarcasm.
Defunding the police does NOT mean eliminating police. You can say it 100 times but people fundamentally opposed to your equality will always alter your words to apply a meaning convenient to their narrative, as if they are the victims. It usually justifies their harassment and agitation as if you’re the one over-reacting. The word infringes on their warped interpretation to self-deputize for a citizen’s arrest on any Trayvon Martin or Ahmaud Arbery.
We often forget our collective history isn’t viewed through the same shared lens. Examine past conflicts, pay attention to how words like “battle” “revolt” and “massacre” are used. Words that disrupt the status quo are countered with words that hold the weight of survivor’s trauma or the threat of captive poverty. If you say “occupy” or “universal” they’ll label you socialists or communists. That’s where the marketing comes in.
I foresee an eventual rebranding of Defunding the Police similar to the transformation of global warming to climate change. Yes, words manipulate the psyche but don’t make as much of a difference on a person’s beliefs as pundits think. The neutralizer of all positions is self-interest, which includes an individual’s relationship to the issue. This tends to be the variable most likely to compromise values. For example, if you work in the oil industry, you’re more likely to be opposed to green energy and more likely to be a climate change denier. If you have a parent in law enforcement, you’re less likely to support a movement that seemingly decreases the food on your table. Inherent bias makes sense but when we’re talking about the inhumane treatment of others, you have to check yourself.
Crime isn’t unique to America, yet we have the highest incarceration rate and highest number of deaths by police of any country in the world. Taxpayers are FUNDING tens of millions in civilian settlements for police misconduct; meanwhile, the police are getting military upgrades and more qualifiers of immunity.
Defund, Defund, Defund.
I didn’t like the word when I heard it at first. Not because it was too radical but because the ensuing debate was too predictable – and here we are. Some phrases are more ambitious than others. Twelve years ago the term “post-racial” was used in frequent delusion. This year shows we’re centuries away from its definition being a reality. The reason police reform can be our reality today, is because the wear and tear is unsustainable to a quality of life for all. Keep in mind, we wouldn’t even have to defund the police if they were punished for their criminal abuse of power.
To achieve our goals we need legislation so it’s time to stop the internal bickering. Every Democrat isn’t a liberal and every liberal isn’t a progressive. DTP just happens to be one of those arguments where all points along the blue spectrum have validity. Strategist Stacey Abrams has been making rounds distilling the issue to a responsibility of local translation. This is similar to Andrew Yang’s approach of renaming his Basic Universal Income Plan to The Freedom Dividend. The name doesn’t change the meaning so why not?
While I approve name flexibility in order to make it easier for the masses to digest, I’m tired of catering to the so-called moderate or undecided voter. I’m not down with arguing semantics while ignoring a year that has fully exposed America’s true colors. We could change the name to More Funding for Police, pay them triple while having the best sensitivity training and we’d still get the same results. When it comes to Black people, all they do is double down on injustice while mocking our pain. We say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ they say ‘Blue Lives Matter.’ We say ‘We Can’t Breathe,’ they say ‘We Can Breathe.’ Now you got one of the officers who shot up Breonna Taylor’s house suing her surviving boyfriend for emotional distress. Is this going to be the new trend for police?
I’ve said time and time again, if there can be a Three Strikes law for civilians, there can be Three Strikes for cops. A plan attached to their pension would change community policing overnight, proving prevention to be the cure. In the meantime, I guess we’re forced to play political scrabble, with all eyes on Georgia, hoping to soon control all three branches of government so we can defund the police and wave a flag mocking the MAGA slogan of “F-ck Your Feelings.”
Trevor is a creative mercenary and ethical lobbyist born and raised on Beale Street. Follow him on Twitter @trevbetter.