The federal government provides tens of millions of dollars each year to a nonprofit group that supports the movement to defund police departments and dismantle the criminal justice system.
Officials with the Brooklyn-based Vera Institute of Justice have urged the government to "radically dismantle" police departments in order to fix a system they say dehumanizes people of color. The institute is heavily funded by the federal government. So far this fiscal year, the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies have awarded the Vera Institute more than $89 million in contracts and grants. The organization has received $811 million in federal funding since 2008, according to USA Spending, a federal budget database.
Vera’s support for the "defund the police" movement comes amid a contentious political debate over policing in America. Democrats see the issue as a political third rail and have tried to distance the party from anti-police rhetoric popular on the left. While members of the Democratic Party have embraced the defund movement, President Joe Biden claimed this month that Republicans are "lying" when they say Democrats support the concept.
The Vera Institute, which calls itself a "justice reform change agent," also received stipends from traditional progressive donors, such as George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. The billionaire’s philanthropy gave more than $10 million to Vera from 2016 to 2019.
Two top executives at Vera rallied to the defund cause following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.
"Vera is committed to dismantling the current culture of policing and working toward solutions that defund police and shift power to communities," Vera president Nicholas Turner wrote on June 8, 2020.
Turner, who received $420,000 in salary and benefits at Vera in 2019, urged support for "the outrage we’re seeing—in the streets, in our communities, and in the media."
"Now is the time to stop tinkering with police reform and to enact wholesale change," Turner said. "We’re building on this unique moment of public awareness, outrage, and calls to defund the police."
Another Vera officer, Jamila Hodge, said it was "time for us to radically dismantle" the criminal justice system. Writing in June 2020, she said the criminal justice system "dehumanizes and devalues Black people" and is rooted in "our nation’s legacy of slavery and white supremacy."
Vera, which took in $174 million in revenue for the year ended June 30, 2020, receives the bulk of its federal funding to represent illegal aliens and refugees seeking entry to the United States. The Justice Department has awarded Vera grants and contracts through various subagencies, including the Office for Victims of Crime and the Office for Violence Against Women, which provide assistance to crime victims. Other grants have been for research, including $750,000 to conduct a randomized trial on the effect of "innovative" youth housing on crime.
In addition to harboring radical views on policing, Vera has thrown its weight behind a pack of left-wing prosecutors, many of them backed by Soros, that swept into office across the United States on the promise to reform the criminal justice system. Their policies have come under intense scrutiny as crime rates surge across the country.
One such prosecutor is Kimberly Foxx, the district attorney in Chicago. The Vera Institute is hosting an event this week with Foxx and Angela Davis, the Communist Party USA member who supports the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Foxx was reprimanded last year over her handling of the investigation into actor Jussie Smollett’s false claim that he was the victim of a hate crime. An independent prosecutor said Foxx displayed "substantial abuses of discretion" during the investigation, in which she dropped charges against Smollett for filing a false police report.
Vera has also partnered with two other left-wing prosecutors, Boston district attorney Rachael Rollins and St. Louis circuit attorney Kim Gardner. The Washington Free Beacon reported that Rollins, who Biden nominated for U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, helped form a commission last year with the Grassroots Law Project, a group that supports the defund cause.
Gardner has come under fire in St. Louis after judges tossed out three murder cases in one week earlier this month after Gardner’s team of prosecutors failed to show up for trial. In another case, the mother of a murder victim blasted Gardner for striking a plea deal that involved no jail time for her son’s killer.
The Vera Institute has also prematurely entered the fray in hot-button cases, including the April shooting of Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old black girl in Columbus, Ohio.
"When Ma'Khia Bryant dialed 9-1-1, she needed help," Vera said in a statement after the shooting. "Instead of assistance, she was shot and killed by Columbus police. Her death underscores that our emergency system does not keep Black and brown children and communities safe."
Video released soon after the shooting showed a Columbus police officer shooting Bryant as she was attempting to stab another girl with a knife.
The Vera Institute did not respond to a request for comment.