Skip to main content

Jane Fonda Perfectly Explains What “Defunding the Police” Means & Why White Feelings Don’t Get to Be at the Center of The Conversation About It

Jane Fonda was on The View this week to promote her new book on activism, What Can I Do. Fonda has been a lifelong activist, standing with the Black Panthers and Indigenous people in the 1960s, fighting against the Vietnam war and advocating for LGBT+ rights in the 70s. In recent years, she’s repeatedly been arrested while protesting climate change and she’s been actively calling out white privilege and showing public support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Right off the bat during her remote appearance on The View, co-host Joy Behar asks Fonda to describe what people mean by “defunding the police,” a term Behar says is misunderstood by many people.

Fonda explains that generally, it means “reconfiguring” the police so that more funds and other resources go to community-led systems that are very often better suited to respond to situations where the police are first called. She notes that they’ve implemented this kind of system in Newark, New Jersey and the results have been really successful in lowering crime rates.

“So then why don’t we call it ‘reconfiguring’ the police instead of ‘defund’ the police?” Behar asked Fonda. “It’s such a volatile phrase,” she says, pointing out that, like words like “feminist” and “liberal,” it’s been co-opted and weaponized by conservatives.

Fonda’s response was perfect.

“Well, you and I are white,” she said, “and I think this is a moment in history when we have to sit back and take our cues from the movement for Black lives. It’s their turn to decide what they do, how they do, and what they name it.”

Behar said she agreed and that “it’s fine” but her tone was weirdly hostile. Or, rather, not so weirdly. Most white people have a very hard time with that whole “sitting back” thing. Any time Black people and other BIPOC engage in a form of protest, it seems there are white people waiting in the wings to tell them how they could be doing it better. Black people march in the streets and white people tell them they should just vote instead (as if those two are mutually exclusive.) They say protesters should be more peaceful but when athletes choose to peacefully kneel during the national anthem to protest police violence, white people have a problem with that too.

Just yesterday, at the NFL season opener, nearly every member of the Kansas City Chiefs stood for the anthem. Then they were joined by the Houston Texans for a “moment of unity” with players locking arms, standing in silence. And even that elicited boos from some in the crowd.

There are some reports that the crowd was not booing the players, but rather another ticketholder who yelled “Trump 2020” during the moment of silence, which you can hear in some clips. Either way, there was disrespect being shown to those players because it’s all too clear that it’s never really about the form protest takes, a lot of white people will always have a problem with protest in general and with the discomfort that brings.

Sure, a lot of people are going to be confused by the term “defunding the police.” Conservatives are going to try to twist it. The thing for white people to do, then, is to push back against attempts to co-opt these protests and come armed with information, as Fonda does. The thing not to do is to tell Black people how to better suit their protests to the delicate feelings of white onlookers.

(image: screengrab)
Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.