Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, who is seeking to become Chicago’s next mayor, struggled this week to defend past comments he made that signaled support for efforts prioritized by the “defund the police” movement.
During a Tuesday night mayoral forum hosted by anti-violence groups at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Johnson, who advanced last month to the runoff election in April against former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, was pressed on past remarks he had made on the issue by local ABC7 political analyst Laura Washington.
“In a December 2020 appearance on WCPT, you said that defund the police was quote, ‘an actual, real political goal,’ unquote. You’ve made other statements that appear to support that goal. Now you are saying that you’ve never said defund the police,” Washington said to Johnson. “So I’d like a straight answer. What did you mean when you said those things in the past and how has your thinking changed since then?”
“My thinking has not changed,” responded Johnson, who has repeatedly denied support for the movement.
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“Listen, there are people who want to see the police budget defunded,” he added, just before Washington interjected and asked, “Are you one of them?”
“I said it was a political goal. I never said it was mine,” Johnson claimed.
While Johnson did say in a December 2020 radio appearance that the movement is a “political goal,” he also referenced “our effort and our move to redirect and defund the amount of money that is spent in policing” during a July 2020 radio show.
Johnson has also come under scrutiny for other remarks he has made about efforts to remove or reallocate funding for police departments, including during his tenure as Cook County commissioner.
The mayoral hopeful, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, took aim at Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s opposition to the efforts, insisting that the defund police movement is “not just admirable, but it’s necessary.”
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“We know the mayor of Chicago here rebuked this call to redirect money to defund this failed system of incarceration and policing,” Johnson said during the December 2020 radio appearance. “So whether it’s the president of the United States calling it a catchy hashtag or phrase, (or) Lori Lightfoot, which I think is actually quite dismissive of the young people who are literally putting their lives on the line for a cause that I think, quite frankly, is not just admirable, but it’s necessary.”
The outlet also highlighted Johnson’s move as a county commissioner to redirect money from law enforcement, including the Cook County sheriff’s office.
Speaking in 2020 on a panel titled “We Don’t Call Police: A Town Hall on a Police-Free Future,” Johnson praised organizers of the movement who push “an agenda that actually can transform people’s lives.”
“And part of it is removing ourselves away from this, you know, state-sponsored policing,” Johnson said at the time, according to the Tribune.
Johnson denied again on Wednesday that he wants to defund the police, saying during an appearance on Block Club Chicago’s The Ballot podcast that he is committed to “actually investing in a smart way.”
“The fact of the matter is that we are asking too much of law enforcement, and we also have a disconnect between law enforcement and communities which they have been assigned to. And so we have to fix that,” he said.
The issue also arose between the two runoff candidates at Thursday night’s debate, where Vallas took aim at Johnson’s past comments.
“I’m not going to defund the police, and you know that. You know that. I have passed multi-billion dollar budgets, over and over again,” Johnson told Vallas from the stage.
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During Lightfoot’s time in office, homicides in Chicago rose to their highest number in 25 years in 2021, according to police department records, outpacing New York City and Los Angeles.
Johnson did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.