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Obama criticizes "defund the police" messaging: "You lost a big audience the minute you say it"

Obama on the current state of politics
Former President Obama on the current state of politics in America 02:31

Former President Barack Obama warned social justice activists that using "defund the police" messaging could derail their attempts for change. 

The primary goal of the movement, which was popularized in wake of the police killing of George Floyd, is to reallocate some funding away from police departments and into community programs. In an interview on Snapchat released Wednesday, Mr. Obama told "Good Luck America" host Peter Hamby that the rhetoric could turn off people, rather than convince them be a part of it. 

"If you believe, as I do, that we should be able reform the criminal justice system so that it's not biased and treats everyone fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan like 'defund the police' but, you know, 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," Mr. Obama said. 

"But if you instead say, 'let's reform the police department,' so that everyone's being treated fairly, divert young people from getting into crime, and if there's a homeless guy, can maybe we send a mental health worker there instead of an armed unit ... suddenly a whole bunch of folks who might not otherwise listen to you are listening to you," he added. 

Peter Hamby Interviews President Obama | Good Luck America | Snap Originals by Snapchat on YouTube

"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?" the former president continued. "And if you want to get something done in a democracy, in a country as big and diverse as ours, then you've got to be able to meet people where they are."

Progressive Congresswoman Ilhan Omar disagreed with the former president's characterization of the movement. 

"We lose people in the hands of police," the Minnesota Democrat said on Twitter. "It's not a slogan but a policy demand. And centering the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety." 

Fellow "Squad" member, Congresswoman Ayana Pressley of Massachusetts, tweeted her criticism of Mr. Obama's remarks. 

"The murders of generations of unarmed Black folks by police have been horrific," she said. "Lives are at stake daily so I'm out of patience with critiques of the language of activists."

While Mr. Obama didn't take a position on the movement itself, other leading Democrats have. Prior to the election, President-elect Joe Biden said he would not support defunding the police. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn told CBSN last month that his party is being destroyed by the "defund the police" movement. It was a topic he said he and the late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis discussed.

"John Lewis and I were very concerned when these slogans came out about 'defund the police,'" he said. "We sat together on the House floor and talked about how that slogan... could undermine the BLM movement, just as 'burn, baby, burn' destroyed our movement back in the '60s."

Representative Jim Clyburn: John Lewis would never say "defund the police" 11:45
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