Continuing to push for shifting resources from policing to community, the Working Families Party—along with the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project—has launched a new grassroots PAC taking bold action to transform public safety. The Justice Fund will provide direct financial support to local progressive candidates committed to policies around defunding the police and reinvesting in communities. The fund will also support elected officials who reject funding from law enforcement sources and who are not supported by police union funded efforts.
“We’re not interested in nibbling around the edges or accepting symbolic concessions,” said Working Families Party National Director Maurice Mitchell in a statement. “The yellow street art is beautiful, but we need to finish the job with real structural change. Black people have struggled for centuries for true freedom—our time is now.”
With $250,000 of seed money pledged from the Working Families Party and the Movement for Black Lives, the Justice Fund will be supported by an aggressive small dollar donor campaign. Speaking with Prism, Mitchell stressed the importance of candidates and elected officials’ ability to withstand pressure from the status quo and potential challenges upon reelection.
“Here we are in this really unprecedented moment where we’re having a reckoning around white supremacy, anti-Black racism, and violence against our people,” said Mitchell. “And we’re seeing this sea change [with many] elected officials beginning to take bold stances.”
Described as a “war chest,” Mitchell views the fund as a way to provide financial support based on the small dollar donor model to ensure accountability to movement. For Mitchell, running the small dollar donor model of fundraising is more than a winning strategy for engagement and support. He believes that small dollar donor campaigns democratize participation in electoral processes and expand opportunities for co-governance.
An initial advisory committee has been convened to support the Justice Fund’s efforts. The initial advisory committee includes organizers, local electeds, and lawyers:
Jeremiah Ellison, Minneapolis city councilmember
Jonathan Jayes-Green, racial and immigrant justice activist
Cristina Jimenez, immigrant rights organizer
Derecka Purnell, lawyer and activist
Kayla Reed, executive director of Action St. Louis
Constance Malcolm, the mother of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, also joins the initial advisory committee. Graham was killed by New York City police officers who rushed into the family’s Bronx apartment in February 2012. Graham was killed in front of his grandmother and six-year-old brother. Graham’s grandmother has stated police did not identify themselves and prior reporting has noted they entered the apartment without a warrant.
Graham is one name on a long list of those killed by law enforcement in the past several years. City council and county commissioner chambers across the country have been forced to engage with demands to defund police after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, as well as so many others. While some have questioned what it means to defund police, advocates have been clear in the strategic necessity of the call to action and path forward.
“Defunding the police isn’t a slogan, it’s a strategy,” said Jessica Byrd, cofounder of the Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives, in a statement. Byrd outlined the value of a venture like the Justice Fund. “The WFP Justice Fund will support candidates and elected officials committed to the goals of this movement. Those most impacted in our communities should control the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve us—from our schools to our local budgets, economies, and police departments.”
Organizations such as Local Progress and the Center for Popular Democracy have previously released policy toolkits to help local electeds develop proposals around decriminalization, ending ICE collaboration, bans on profiling, data transparency, and more.
Anticipating a backlash for supporting transformative policies around public safety and policing, Mitchell said the Justice Fund is there to support elected officials who are aligning in this moment of rebellion and protest with movement and people who have been taking to the streets for over the past month.
“It’s so important in this particular moment, when folks are actually showing some courage, that they feel flanked [and] have the resources and movement to [support] them,” said Mitchell.