Ellison admits ‘defund police’ slogan was a tactical mistake for progressives

Ellison supports defunding the police; what he doesn't support is being open about it.

Keith Ellison (Lorie Shaull/Flickr)

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison apparently thinks Democrats should have sought to defund the police without saying “defund the police.”

“I think allowing this moniker, ‘defund the police,’ to ever get out there, was not a good thing,” he recently told Washington Post reporter David Weigel. This comment followed an election in Minneapolis in which voters rejected a measure that would have replaced the police with a largely unarmed “Department of Public Safety.”

While Ellison’s most recent comment has drawn significant media attention, this position is not new — the AG has long wanted to reduce policing, only taking issue with the slogan his fellow progressives often use.

Over the summer, Ellison spoke with Stephen Henderson of PBS’s American Black Journal, who asked him directly if he supports “deconstructing and reconstructing the police.”

“Do you think we have to go to that extreme?” Henderson asked Ellison, who quickly responded: “The answer is yes, but I would never adopt … the language of defund the police, abolish the police, I wouldn’t use that term.”

Ellison has consistently taken this hair-splitting stance, backing measures aimed at dismantling, minimizing and replacing the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) while claiming to be different from those who use the “defund the police” slogan.

For example, he bashed the moniker as “a hashtag slogan that really has no old policy implications at all” at an event hosted by the University of Miami last month. Later that month, he bolstered his son’s campaign for Minneapolis City Council.

His son, Jeremiah Ellison, was one of the most vocal advocates for defunding the police. He was among the City Council members who talked about police abolition on a stage that said “defund the police” in giant letters during the George Floyd riots last year and voted to remove $8 million in funding from MPD.

Attorney General Ellison was also a consistent backer of the defeated referendum issue known as Question 2, which sought to remove the city’s charter-mandated obligation to fund the police.

He has even gone beyond the bounds of Minnesota, urging Congress to enact left-wing police reforms like the Justice in Policing Act. “I think it’s essential, and the country needs it,” he said about the bill, which Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida described as “nothing more than a measure to defund, dismantle, and abolish the police.”