The anti-lynching legislation that you first introduced in 2018 was blocked by Rand Paul last week. How should voters view Senator Paul’s opposition to that bill?
We are still, these hundreds of years later, having an argument in the United States Senate about whether lynching should be designated a federal crime. It speaks to the fact that we still have so much work to do, to not only acknowledge the history of our country but also acknowledge that we have yet to fully embrace, much less address, the systemic racism that has existed in America and the fact that black lives, in particular, have been legally, historically and currently been considered as less than human.
So, tell me about the legislation you introduced this week, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
In the context of everything we’re discussing, it is but one piece of it all. It is very specific and it is about police accountability. It is about making sure that there’s accountability and consequence when people break the rules and break the law. It lowers the standard of criminal intent for an officer who has violated the constitutional rights of people. It gives the Department of Justice and state A.G.s more power to investigate entire police departments for patterns and practices of discrimination.
Also, it’s about independent investigation. I know as a former prosecutor, no matter how well-intentioned the prosecutor may be when investigating the case of abuse or excessive force by a police officer, if that police officer works for an agency that you work with every day, at the very least there will be an appearance of conflict. Independent investigations would be required.
Can I ask you about this idea of defunding the police? What’s your thinking on that idea?
Well, it’s a concept. We do have to reimagine what public safety looks like. And here’s the thing. It is status quo thinking to believe that putting more police on the streets creates more safety. That’s wrong. It’s just wrong. You know what creates more safety? Funding public schools, affordable housing, increased homeownership, job skill development, jobs, access to capital for those who want to start small businesses, or who are running small businesses in communities.
But, no, we’re not going to get rid of the police. We all have to be practical. But let’s separate out these discussions.
Many cities in our country spend one-third of their entire budget on policing. With all the responsibilities those cities have, one-third on policing? Put it in the context of the fact that over the last many decades, we have essentially been defunding public schools. If anyone thinks that the way we’re going to cure these problems is by putting more police on the street, they’re wrong.