Since the shocking, videotaped killing of George Floyd, an African American man, by a white Minneapolis policeman on May 25, tens of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in protest. In many places, demonstrations against police violence were met with callousness and more police violence, often military style.
You can’t have a protest without slogans, and of all the slogans that have appeared during these protests, the one that has been the most visible and provocative is “Defund the police.” On HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver devoted an entire show to the slogan and the issues behind it. The president, unsurprisingly, took the bait and tweeted repeatedly in opposition. A couple of his supporters escalated the threat.
“Defund the police” T-shirt via Etsy
I’ve been following the arguments over “Defund the police”—from “Is there a better way to say it?” to “What does it even mean?” (Interestingly, the OED doesn’t include a definition for defund that means “withdraw financial support from something,” although American dictionaries do.) My conclusion: Whenever you have to explain a slogan by saying “What we really mean is…”, it’s a bad slogan and you’re losing the argument.
Especially when your “explanation” uses a word like “decommodify” that needs more explanation. I don’t know who created this graphic; I found it on Reddit.
The commentary that spoke most directly to me comes from a Twitter user who goes by The Hoarse Whisperer and who tackled the subject the way those of us who work in branding and communications would.