Spike Lee warns of being too extreme when discussing ‘Defund the Police’

Spike Lee arrives on the red carpet of The 92nd Oscars® at the Dolby® Theatre in Hollywood, CA...

The “Defund the Police” conversation has grown in strength in recent weeks. I used to think it was a fringe thing, just something pie-in-the-sky to say whenever police officers brutalized some member of the public they were sworn to protect. But in recent weeks, I’ve grown an appreciation for the Defund the Police movement and all of its nuances. Once you start thinking about how much money is spent on arming police forces and paying them exorbitant salaries to terrorize civilian populations, defunding the police makes a lot of sense. Plus, it’s just a good negotiation tactic, especially as cops around the country are making it very easy to see why they need to be demilitarized, defunded and deescalated. Spike Lee has some thoughts though. He wants people to be more considered and nuanced when discussing this:

Spike Lee is worried that the “Defund the Police” movement, which has sprung up amid the worldwide anti-racism protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, will have adverse effects with President Donald Trump perverting the message to stoke fear. On Tuesday, the Oscar-winning director spoke with Al Roker during Off the Rails on SiriusXM’s “Today Show Radio,” where he said activists understand the meaning of “defund the police” — i.e., redistributing city budgets to invest in other departments and projects, specifically for people of color — and that it does not mean abolishing police departments. But that may not be clear to everyone, which is dangerous.

“[Activists] have to be careful with the words because already this guy is running with that. You know the guy I’m talking about. Agent Orange,” Lee said, referring to Trump. “And again, he’s trying to twist the narrative like he did with [former NFL quarterback Colin] Kaepernick and the kneeling — trying to say that was about disrespecting the flag, but that wasn’t it at all… We’ve got to be careful what we say because one or two wrong words, they’ll twist that thing around and the narratives change. I don’t think people are saying we don’t need police at all, but ‘defund the police’ – I think there [could] be better terminology.”

Roker interjected, “We want police, but we want a different kind of policing.”

Lee made it clear police are greatly need in society (“We need police!”) but officers need to be held accountable. “We need a police system that is just,” he said. “And it’s so hard with the police unions. I mean they protect their guys, they protect that blue no matter what. And so that has to be dealt with.”

Lee also noted he has not seen such genuine support for real change from such an enormous, diverse group since the 1960s. “I think we’re at a very important point, not just in American history, but world history.”

Lee went on to say, “I think that the young people, especially our young generation of white sisters and brothers, they’re joining us, and I haven’t seen that since I was growing up in the ’60s in Brooklyn. So I don’t think this is a fad. I don’t think that this is something people think is hip and cool to be doing. People are out here in the streets and they mean business. … People want changes.”

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

People like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have already spoken about just this, that people are equating “defunding the police” with “no police,” and it’s not that and Democrats don’t stand for “no police.” But, as I said, it’s an interesting negotiation tactic and it’s actually sort of working already? There are already cities, mayors, city councils and governors who are working from “defund the police” position to make major changes to police forces and community policing and budgetary priorities. Mostly I think people from Spike’s generation and older generations are sort of amazed by how fast this conversation is moving, and they want to remind kids that it won’t always be like this, and that kids shouldn’t be disappointed if it takes longer to institute big changes.

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Photos courtesy of WENN.

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20 Responses to “Spike Lee warns of being too extreme when discussing ‘Defund the Police’”

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  1. savu says:

    I know defund the police is the phrase that’s taken off, but I get what he’s saying – some hear “defund” and think “remove all funding”. I think “divest (from) the police” makes a little more sense for the people not in the movement who don’t know much beyond signs and slogans. To me, it more accurately represents what most are pushing for, to take some money from police departments and invest it in the community instead of buying tank-like vehicles. But “defund the police” has taken off, ya gotta grab momentum where you can.

  2. Case says:

    I agree. We’re dealing with someone in office who lies every second of every day and spins everything around to please his base. He’ll use this as a “Vote for me or the Purge will happen with no police!” kind of nonsense.

    I FULLY support the idea of defunding the police. I think it’s an excellent idea. The police as they are right now no longer work, and we need to rethink and restructure the role they place in our society. But it IS a divisive tag line and can be misleading before you read into it more. At first I thought it was totally radical and a bad idea before I educated myself.

    • Lua says:

      The problem is you took the time to read and educate yourself. Most people won’t. Reallocation would have been a better term. Defund scares people and they vote against it because they don’t know what it is and won’t take the time to learn about it. We went to a rally on city hall while they voted on the budget…they chose to increase it.

    • liz says:

      I had a long conversation about that with my teenager today. About how the hashtag is awful, but that police work needs to be reconsidered and restructured. We live in NYC and the police are part of our everyday lives in a way that they were not when I was growing up in a suburb. Growing up, I saw the cops on holiday weekends, looking for illegal fireworks and drunk drivers.

      In Manhattan, I see the police all day, every day, doing things the do not need to be done by heavily armed people looking for a fight. Directing traffic can be managed by the Department of Transportation (same with parking tickets). Dealing with the unhoused needs to be done by social workers trained to help the mentally ill. We need to rethink what the police should be doing (like maybe actually closing cases instead of leaving rape kits to rot or telling people who report property crimes “here’s your report, file it with your insurance company”). And use the money to beef up the Department of Education and the Department of Mental Health.

      In other words, policing needs to be de-militarized and scaled back. Social services that actually work to reduce crime need to be enhanced.

  3. adastraperaspera says:

    Yep. Slogans and symbolic gestures feel good but are ultimately toothless. The “Justice in Policing” policy will become law and actually change things. The purpose of this policy is stated:

    “To hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve
    transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies.”

  4. molly says:

    AOC had a great answer to what “Defund the police” look like. It looks like the Suburbs.

    You don’t see police constantly rolling around the suburbs with nothing to do trying to catch kids and harass them for loitering or showing up with several cars to kill them for accusations of using fake $20 bills. Money in those places isn’t spent on MORE police, more cars, more weapons. It’s spent on education, community and diversion programs that gives all the white kids who DO get in trouble a second, third, and millionth opportunity to pursue that “good future” everyone claims they have.

  5. Faye G says:

    I agree the verbiage is a bit confusing, but I fully support defunding the police. Reforms don’t work, they never have. I just learned that in California, cops make as much as $250,000 a year. A quarter million dollars! The police unions are out of control, the police need to be formally disbanded then rebuilt from the ground up.

    Here in Seattle, cops are notoriously crappy anyway. They stopped responding to most burglary calls a long time ago, if they show up it’s five hours later and they laugh in your face. The hubris in that department is astonishing, they take our 400 million a year and do absolutely nothing to serve the community.

    • Jenn says:

      Exactly. It means “demilitarize the police,” but I am additionally in favor of abolition of police. (I was finally, recently convinced by a Medium essay by an ex-cop. We need different people in charge of our communities.)

  6. LunaSF says:

    We need to shift funding to drug treatment programs, mental health care, youth center and other community programs and away from militarizing the police. We call the police for everything now and it’s too much. The past ten years I’ve only called the police in response to people in my neighborhood who were clearly on drugs (Meth is big where I live) and trespassing and/or trying to break in to residences or vehicles. If we could call rapid response social workers to assist instead of police that seems like a better situation for everyone. I do think we put way too much on police and call them for everything from stray dogs to loud music. We need more community resources and not have a militarized force dealing with every human issue.

    • Anners says:

      Yes to this ^^ I’m all for redistributing resources to vital public services (particularly mental health and addiction), but there needs to be ownership on the part of citizens to deal with some of their own issues (i can’t count the number of 911 calls i’ve personally handled for incorrect change, civil disputes, noise complaints, animal complaints, and neighbour disputes). If the police are reserved for actually criminal and emergency issues, the services won’t require as many officers and that funding can be redeployed to essential city services.

      Public service comment – if you call the police for someone suspicious in your neighbourhood and the only thing that makes said person suspicious is the colour of his/her skin – you’re a racist.

  7. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Unfortunately, things have to be dumbed down because the right can’t understand anything. Yes they’re ignorant and stupid. Which, of course, makes them dangerous. Their voters are stupid and dangerous. We should look at hiring the unenlightened cast of Sesame Street for political advertising and public relations. Oscar the Grouch. Cookie Monster. Grover. Not sure about Elmo, he makes sense sometimes and definitely not Kermit or Bert and Ernie, they’re too evolved. Miss Piggy would work.

  8. Just a thought says:

    So then the slogan should be suburbanize the police. I get what the activists are pushing for, but Spike is right; words can make or break a movement and end up scaring enough fragile white people into tuning out the message and voting against the actions that are needed for real change. We need these changes. We also need to understand that in order to get them, we need to lead a majority of people to buy into them and a lot of those people will spook and run if there’s any suggestion of no more police. It’s all about how to sell the morally correct message to people in a way that they will accept. Many of us are already there and have been for a long time, but we will f*#¥I this up if we keep saying “defund”. We need to be smarter and come up with better slogans that mean the same thing but gives the message in a way that won’t scare others. Don’t give them a platform of false fear on which to stand

    • molly says:

      YES. This is a serious messaging problem to a very legitimate movement.

      The most recent and loud “defund” cry has been the campaign to Defund Planned Parenthood. I absolutely believe they wanted to take every penny from them, shut their doors, and burn the all clinics to the ground. Not nearly the same as the hope of defunding the police.

  9. Heather H says:

    Agree use of the word defund is causing a lot of confusion and people genuinely think there will be no police. Folks need to change word strategy before it all backfires.

  10. Melody says:

    I live in Minneapolis. We needed to defund/restructure our policing. Not every situation gets better with people with guns. The other problem was that the police union was led by a long-time racist Trump-supporting POS bully. He was elected to his post, so that tells you what the voters supported. We couldn’t make the real changes we needed without getting out of the contract with that toxic organization. It was extreme, but it was the only way.

  11. Claire says:

    Same! I work in a police department and we always send an officer on calls to accompany a social worker or mediator. I really don’t think they’d feel comfortable responding to a domestic battery in progress or some other active situation alone. If my department were to be defunded, I’m sure my division would be the first to go. They certainly wouldn’t keep me and lose officers.

    • liz says:

      Having the police come in to back up a social worker is a great idea, particularly for domestic disputes. The problem is that in most jurisdictions there is no social worker – it’s just the cops.

  12. Call_me_al says:

    Investing heavily in supporting families who are struggling (food security,health care, education, child care, green spaces, enrichment, DCS, birth control, mental health, addiction services, housing, community centers) plus adequately training police had been shown to reduce the need for police interventions!