Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, who is aiming to become Chicago’s next mayor, struggled this week defending past comments that he supported efforts prioritized by the “defund the police” movement.
At a Tuesday night mayoral forum hosted by anti-violence groups at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Johnson, who advanced to the second round in April last month against former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, was pressured for earlier comments which he had made on the matter by local ABC7 political analyst Laura Washington.
“In a December 2020 appearance on WCPT, you said defunding the police was quote, ‘a real, real political goal,’ not quoted. You’ve made other statements that appear to support that goal. Now you say you I never said to defund the police,” Washington told Johnson. “So I’d like a clear answer. What did you mean when you said those things in the past, and how has your mindset changed since then?”
“My thinking hasn’t changed,” replied Johnson, who has repeatedly denied support for the movement.
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Chicago mayoral candidate and Cook County commissioner Brandon Johnson speaks at a news conference on January 24, 2023 in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
“Listen, there are people who want the police budget paid back,” he added, just before Washington stepped in and asked, “Are you one of them?”
“I said it was a political goal. I never said it was mine,” Johnson claimed.
While Johnson said in December 2020 radio appearance that the movement is a “political goal”, he also referred to “our effort and our move to redirect and pay back the amount spent on police work” during a radio show in July 2020.
Johnson has also come under scrutiny for other comments he has made about attempts to cut or reallocate funding for police departments, including during his tenure as Cook County Commissioner.
The mayor is hopeful, as reported by the Chicago grandstandtook aim at the defiance of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, insisting that the defund police movement “is not only admirable, but necessary.”
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Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, left, and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, right, will face off on April 4 in a runoff election for Chicago mayor. (Kamil Krzaczynski, Jacek Boczarski/Anadolu Agency)
“We know that the mayor of Chicago has rebuked this call here to forward 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 risking their lives for a cause that I think, frankly, is not only admirable, but necessary.”
The outlet also highlighted Johnson’s move as district commissioner to forward justice moneyincluding the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
Speaking in 2020 to a panel titled “We Don’t Call Police: A Town Hall on a Police-Free Future,” Johnson praised the movement’s organizers for “pushing an agenda that can actually change people’s lives “.
“And part of that is we’re moving away from this, you know, state-sponsored policing,” Johnson said at the time, according to the Tribune.
Johnson again denied on Wednesday that he wants to contradict the police during a performance on Block Club Chicago’s The Ballot podcast that he is determined to “actually invest the smart way.”
Mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson, left, and Paul Vallas shake hands before the start of a debate at ABC7 studios in downtown Chicago on March 16, 2023. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool)
“The fact is, we’re asking too much of law enforcement, and we also have a gap between law enforcement and the communities they’re assigned to. And so we need to fix that,” he said.
The issue also arose between the two second-round candidates during Thursday night’s debate, where Vallas took aim at Johnson’s earlier comments.
“I’m not going to defund the police, and you know it. You know it. I’ve passed through multibillion-dollar budgets time and time again,” Johnson told Vallas from the stage.
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During Lightfoot’s tenure, Chicago homicides rose in 2021 to their highest rate in 25 years, according to police data, outpacing New York City and Los Angeles.
The campaigns for Johnson and Vallas did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.