• Nathan Max

'Defund the Police' Needs Rebranding

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Photo credit: Lindsey Max, MNT. Different messaging would help police-reform advocates succeed with a wider audience.

Left-wing activists need to take a public-relations class.

With an unprecedented number of Americans suddenly awaken to the fact that cops are unfairly targeting people of color and killing with impunity throughout the country, liberals have developed perhaps the worst phrase possible to describe their solution. Instead of “Defund the Police,” we should be shouting to “Reform the Police,” and “Fund the Community.”

To the average American, “Defund the Police,” creates an image of cities permitted to descend into anarchy, with nobody left to investigate crime or patrol the streets. That’s not what the movement is advocating. It’s about reallocating resources to address systemic inequities and create better living conditions.

But good luck explaining that.

Liberals need to take a branding lesson from conservatives here. When conservatives wanted to ban late-term abortions, they changed the name to “partial-birth abortions.” When conservatives wanted to abolish the estate tax, they changed the name to “death tax.” When conservatives wanted to make global warming seem less threatening, they changed the name to “climate change.”

Messaging matters, and “Defund the Police,” is poor messaging. It is scary and sounds too radical to the average voter.

Police and sheriff’s departments across the nation need a complete overhaul in their training practices in which they ditch their us-versus-them mentality and learn better de-escalation tactics. In other words, they need to be reformed. Let’s say that instead. All that training will not be free, so “defunding” translates into poorly trained. We don’t want that. That’s what we have now.

Cities can reallocate money being used for military equipment, like armored vehicles, and use it to create after-school programs and other community initiatives that keeps kids out of trouble. In other words, fund the community. Let’s say that instead. Nobody is against providing opportunities for children.

Camden, N.J., has gotten a lot of attention lately as an example of a city that has successfully and drastically improved its law-enforcement situation. But Camden didn’t defund anything, and media reports suggesting the city abolished police are misleading. The city actually reformed by disbanding its police department and contracting law-enforcement services with Camden County.

In other words, Camden didn’t “abolish” cops, per se. It just hired new ones. Since Camden County paid lower salaries, the move actually resulted in more police patrolling the city, not fewer. Hardly an abolition.

Major police reform victories have already been won in New York, Washington, D.C., Iowa and Colorado since massive demonstrations began in the wake of George Floyd’s murder three weeks ago. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a police reform bill yesterday that bans the use of chokeholds and other restraints. Colorado passed similar legislation by a 32-1 vote in its state senate that goes even further.

“This, in my estimation, is the largest single advancement of individual civil rights and liberties for Coloradans in a generation,” civil-rights attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai told the Denver Post.

There will never be more momentum in this country for meaningful police reform, or a greater consensus among the electorate to get it done.

Let’s not blow this opportunity by needlessly scaring people with a frightfully bad slogan.