Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, shrugged off reports that police officers were being harassed during the George Floyd unrest of 2020, saying police had yet to “humble” themselves and admit to the problems with local law enforcement.
During a Jun 9, 2020, appearance on the podcast “Real Talk with Henry Sanders,” Barnes was asked to respond to comments by now-former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales, who said police officers were being followed home and their families targeted.
Barnes showed little sympathy for the police, saying they had not yet “confronted the reason why people are angry and people are protesting.”
“Are police officers have a hard time? Yes,” Barnes acknowledged. “But they haven’t confronted the issue that’s so pervasive, they haven’t confronted the issue by and large, have not confronted the reason why people are angry and people are protesting.”
“You’ve got to humble yourself and admit fault,” he continued. “These are public servants we’re talking about. Police officers are public servants. So addressing that a problem exists and this problem continues is a first step to help build trust with communities. Because you see so much, like, avoidance of there being a problem, so much avoidance of taking responsibility. And of course, communities are going to continue to distrust you and look at you in a negative light if what is so apparent hasn’t even been acknowledged.”
“The job is hard. The job is stressful,” he added, “but that’s because the job has not adapted with the times. The job hasn’t evolved. The job hasn’t been reformed in a way that will meet today’s societal needs.”
Barnes also said some police officers enter the force after watching action movies like “Die Hard” and have fantasies of taking down bad guys, and when those fantasies aren’t realized, they sometimes result in police brutality like in Floyd’s death.
The Barnes campaign said in a statement to Fox News Digital that the lieutenant governor does not support defunding the police.
“As independent fact-checkers have verified, and Ron Johnson himself conceded, Lt. Governor Barnes doesn’t support defunding the police, and has delivered millions in additional funding for law enforcement and crime prevention in Wisconsin,” campaign spokesperson Maddy McDaniel said.
McDaniel was referencing the debate Saturday in which Johnson conceded that Barnes hasn’t used the phrase “defund the police” but “he has a long history of being supported by people that are leading the effort to defund” and uses “code words” about “over-bloated” police budgets.
Barnes has used words like “over-bloated” to describe police budgets but said in July that law enforcement officers must be provided with “the resources they need to keep us safe.”
“I don’t support defunding the police,” he said in March. “But what I do support is investing just as heavily in community resources in the prevention of crime, investing in schools, good paying jobs, the things that keep communities safe to prevent crime from happening in the first place.”
In one 2020 interview, Barnes told a local Wisconsin public radio show that funding should go to “a social worker or some sort of crisis intervener or a violence interrupter” instead of police officers.
Also in 2020, Barnes said funding for community services should be redirected from “over-bloated” police budgets.
Barnes also responded that he wants to “slightly decrease” state funding levels for law enforcement and corrections in a 2012 survey for the organization Vote Smart.
In the same 2020 interview with Henry Sanders, Barnes reiterated his position, saying police funding should be directed to services that are “proven to reduce crime rates.”
“This is about safety overall, and it’s about it’s about the things that you would want to see,” he said. “I think folks would want to see more money in libraries. I think folks would want to see more money in neighborhood services, paved rows, and other things, and job creation, business opportunities, things that have been statistically, scientifically and just common sense proven to reduce crime rates.”
Barnes has also advocated for cutting the state’s prison population in half, eliminating cash bail and other progressive criminal justice reforms.
Before entering public office, Barnes previously worked as an organizer for Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, a Milwaukee-based social justice group, when he teamed up with another organization, Wisdom, to launch a 2012 initiative aimed at cutting Wisconsin’s prison population in half.
The 11×15 campaign sought to reduce Wisconsin’s prison population by half by 2015 while “making our communities safer,” Barnes told local media at the time.
Barnes later served two terms in the Wisconsin State Assembly before he was chosen as the running mate to now-Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
After Evers and Barnes won the election in November 2018, narrowly defeating incumbent Republicans Scott Walker and Rebecca Kleefisch, Barnes continued supporting the prison initiative, tweeting in October 2019, “Cool, let’s cut our prison population in half.”
Since Evers and Barnes entered office, Wisconsin’s prison population has been reduced by about 15%, according to statistics from the state Department of Corrections.
The vast majority of those currently incarcerated — 68% — are classified as “violent” offenders, meaning it would be impossible to cut the population in “half” without releasing at least some of those violent offenders.
In 2016, when he was still a state legislator, Barnes sponsored a bill to end cash bail in Wisconsin. The measure, which did not make it out of committee, would have required a defendant to be released unless there was “clear and convincing evidence” that he or she was a flight risk or a danger to society, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
During a September 2018 podcast, Barnes also said he supported allowing inmates to vote.
“I’ve long championed restoration of voting rights immediately once someone has served their sentence, and I mean, honestly, even when someone is locked up,” he said.
Barnes has also made statements online with a soft tone on the defund the police movement, and his campaign has received funding from five groups that advocate for defunding cops.
“Defunding the police only dreams of being as radical as a Donald Trump pardon,” Barnes tweeted in July 2020.
On Sept. 3, 2020, Barnes blasted the criminal justice system after the police officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor did not face charges.
“You can feel how you want about to calls to reform, defund, or abolish but the question is, how can a system that allows this to happen continue to be upheld?” he wrote.