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Cory Booker on how the U.S. should reform policing

While “defund the police” has become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter activists and some of the thousands of protesters across the country, Democrats on Capitol Hill are considering a different set of reforms. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is one of the sponsors of a new bill, and he joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the “common sense” police reforms he advocates and how to heal American society.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While "Defund the police" has become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter activists and some of the thousands of protesters across the country, Democrats in Congress are considering their own set of proposals.

    Amna Nawaz has more on that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    And just today, the New Jersey state attorney general released video of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Maurice Gordon, by a white state trooper last month. It happened just two days before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

    In Congress, more than 200 House and Senate Democrats have signed onto the Justice in Policing Act. As we laid out earlier in the program, it would, among other things, ban choke holds, end no-knock warrants in drug cases, mandate police training on racial bias, and collect data at the federal level on the use of force.

    One of the bill's sponsors is Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey. And he joins me now.

    Senator Booker, welcome back to welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let's talk about this legislation now, because there are some elements in here that have been on the table before, efforts to stop militarization of police, to end racial profiling. Neither of those bills came to a vote, under pressure from police unions and others.

    So, what is different about the proposals now, other than the moment in which they are being brought forward?

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.:

    Well, I think, first of all, the moment is the message that we have today.

    There has been no great bills of social change in this country, from workers' rights, to civil rights, LGBTQ rights, that hasn't had large-scale efforts, mass mobilizations of nonviolent protesters.

    There's an old saying in Washington. Change doesn't come from Washington. It comes to Washington.

    And so, when you have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans engaging in norms of nonviolent protest in all 50 states, multiracial, multigenerational, multireligious coalitions, this bill that would never have gotten this many co-sponsors just a month ago now has two-thirds or more of the Democrats in the Senate and has 100-plus, closing in on, I think, of 200 House members.

    So, this bill has a lot more momentum to it. And you are right, and that is almost the ridiculous reality, is that many of these commonsense ideas in this bill have been around for decades of people demanding those — a change to happen.

    Well, now the demands have grown louder and all around this country. And some of these practices that should have been banned decades ago, I believe we now have a chance of getting it done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned the co-sponsors. It's worth pointing out you don't have a single Republican co-sponsor out of those many that you listed right there. Why not?

    You pride yourself on reaching across the aisle, working with your Republican colleagues. What are they telling you is their hesitation on signing onto this?

  • Sen. Cory Booker:

    Well, I'm not going to put any spotlight on anybody right now that I'm in good-faith negotiations with, but I'm talking to Republican colleagues across the aisle.

    It's a long process. It took me years to get many of my Republican colleagues who were — earlier on in my career were talking against criminal justice reform. But, ultimately, we partnered on a bill that liberated thousands of people from prison, something people told me was impossible to get done.

    And so, again, this is what's right. And this bill is on the right side of history. And I know that this is the beginning. This is less than 24 hours since we have presented this bill, but now we go to work.

    And the great thing, again, is that the community at large is demanding these changes, beyond partisanship. You see people just saying, this is right that we don't have no-knock warrants, where plainclothes officers barge into people's houses guns drawn. That's a recipe for disaster, like we saw with Breonna Taylor.

    We have already seen a few dozen police departments ban the kind of choke holds that killed Eric Garner. These are very commonsense things, that a police officer who does egregious wrong shouldn't have immunity in federal courts, virtual immunity.

    So, these are things that the average American would say are commonsense that will enable us to hold people accountable, and will stop things like Tamir Rice being shot and killed by a police officer who was on the verge of being fired from another police department and just ducked out of that one, and ducked into another one, because we have no national databases of misconduct.

    These are commonsense reforms that will protect people's lives. And it's the right side of history, and we're going to keep fighting until we get them done.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Senator Booker, I want to ask you about the other conversation around the police right now, and that is this defund the police movement and conversation.

    You have said that you won't use the phrase, but that you understand the substance. So what does that mean? Do you believe that police departments today constitute too much of a line item budget, too big a line item budget in many city and local governments?

  • Sen. Cory Booker:

    Well, first of all, I'm watching Donald Trump try to weaponize this slogan, like he did try to weaponize Black Lives Matter or the Green New Deal.

    That's not a conversation that we need right now. What we need is to talk to the real issues going on in our nation, that we are the land of the free. Five percent of the globe's population, about one out of every four incarcerated people on the planet Earth, are here in America. One out of every three incarcerated women are here in the United States of America.

    And if you go into our prisons, and see who we treat with police and prisons and jails, it's the most vulnerable in our society who need help. We overwhelmingly incarcerate people with mental illness. That's not a policing problem. That's a health care problem.

    We overwhelmingly incarcerate those who are addicted to drugs over and over again, and costing us millions of dollars before they get treatment. That's not a police problem. That's a societal problem and a medical care problem.

    We now criminalize poverty in this country and have for years. Ask anybody has warrants out for their arrest because they couldn't afford the hundreds of dollars' worth of traffic violation tickets that they have.

    So, clearly, we are a society that is investing in things that cost taxpayers much more money, that are an affront to human dignity, that don't elevate human potential, and don't reflect our common values.

    So, I'm not going to get in a false political argument, but what I want to get into is, how do we create a more beloved community in our nation, when we care for those people who are hurt and in pain and struggling, and help them to avoid the need for police in the first place?

    If we were making investments…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Senator Booker, I hear — I'm sorry to cut you off. I know that your time is limited.

    I hear you saying that you think those funds should be reallocated to meet some of those problems on the front end. But I want to ask you about this. This is an issue for mayors. This is an issue that you have had to make before in Newark back in 2010.

    When you were facing a budget crunch, you made the decision to cut about 150 police officers out of that budget crunch. And back then, you said: "When I first came in, we were starving other city departments to push more resources into the police department."

    Other mayors today could make the same argument. Was that a mistake back then?

  • Sen. Cory Booker:

    No, I think it's because you're dealing with this as if it's a zero sum game.

    The reality is what we started doing then in my term as mayor is experimenting with bringing in the John Jay College School of Criminology to see if we could attack some of the problems, drug crimes, drug violence, not with police intervention, but with community intervention.

    And we saw tremendous success on that. This is not a zero sum game, pulling the dollar from one place, putting it in the other. It's about deconflicting our society. It's about stopping this overreliance on police, prisons and jails, and finding solutions, evidence-based solutions, that work.

    And if we keep constructing it in a way where it's a zero sum game, we're going to start lining up people on both sides. If we talk in a larger way, that there is a way to keep our society much safer, with a less use of taxpayer dollars, and, in fact, a better investment, and we — I can give you case after case, as guy who studied cities for the greater part of my 20s and 30s.

    I can show you cities and communities that have made these decisions strategically, and shown that they can save taxpayer dollars, create — stop crime more than any police can, and elevate human potential.

    And that's what we should be having a constructive conversation about.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Senator Booker, before I let you go, Vice President Biden has not yet picked a vice — sorry — has not yet picked someone to run alongside him.

    Given race relations are a more urgent priority for America right now, does he need to pick a black woman?

  • Sen. Cory Booker:

    I'm not going to tell the nominee from our party, who I trust with being the president of the United States, I'm not going to tell him who he has to pick.

    I trust that Joe Biden will pick someone who's prepared to be president of the United States, pick someone who can help to heal our country and bring us together and someone who's qualified for that job.

    I know he has a lot on his mind and a lot to weigh. This is the most important election of our lifetime. And I trust that he will make, not just the right decision in this case, but as president of the United States, he will make many the right decisions to help our country heal, come together and envision and establish a more beloved nation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's Senator Cory Booker, Democrat from the state of New Jersey, joining us tonight.

    Thank you very much, Senator.

  • Sen. Cory Booker:

    Thank you.

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