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Garcetti: Eliminating police would be the wrong response to misconduct

The nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd are forcing many state and local government officials to closely examine their law enforcement agencies and practices. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Thursday his proposal to cut $150 million from the city’s police budget and put that money toward helping communities of color. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss accountability.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd are forcing many state and local government officials to closely reexamine their law enforcement agencies.

    Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced yesterday his proposal to cut $150 million from the city's police budget and to put that money toward helping communities of color.

    And Mayor Garcetti joins us now.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour," Mr. Mayor.

    So, I think a lot of people could understand why you would want to put this money into communities that are hurting, but why take it from the police department, and particularly just a few weeks after you were calling for an increase in the police department budget?

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti:

    It's a fair question to ask, Judy.

    And good to be with you again.

    Look, budgets are moral documents. And we knew in COVID-19 that we would have to make cuts almost everywhere. Myself, our civilian departments took a 10 percent cut. So I want to be very clear with my police officers and anybody else listening, this is shared sacrifice.

    But no one department can be completely immune. We have to, in tough economic times and in a moment of racial justice, where we have the opportunity — any police officer out there I have ever talked to said, please, can you invest in education and in health care and the things that might prevent crime before I have to deal with it?

    We give them so much to shoulder on their backs, that they're supposed to solve homelessness, and mental health, deal with a lack of education in communities of color.

    Let's, in a very difficult moment, start going down a road where we say that those things, too, are priorities. It's not an either/or. It's a yes/and. We have all squeezed our budgets. It was something that, in our largest department, we can do and still keep our police officers well-protected, invested in their training, making sure that they're compensated in the right way.

    But if we don't start walking through this door today, when will we? And if we don't take this action, who will?

    So, I hear what people are saying out there, as well as what my officers say too. We have to find a better way. It can't just be on the back of policing. It has to be in the reflections of society that says, long before a criminal justice system intervenes, we can do things to give people the lives that they deserve, and not have the racial disparities that for so long we have had in America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're acknowledging the impetus for this, the turnaround, was because of the killing of George Floyd?

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti:

    It certainly should be an accelerant for all of us, but, no, it's not when it started.

    I, as mayor, for instance, over the last seven years, the largest thing that's increased has been our investments in housing and to house people who are experiencing homelessness, about $700 million that we didn't have before.

    When we look at the growth of our budget, we have increased our gang reduction youth development workers, people who have been criminally justice involved who now work as mentors, keep our parks open late. That's increased 50 percent, while the number of police officers we have had has stayed the same.

    Do budgets go up? All budgets do because of more receipts and the cost of living. But we have put our priority overwhelmingly long before today in trying to invest in those things that can help our officers be safer and help our communities be safer.

    You don't have to choose between those two. And I know that's a tough message. People right now are listening with the ears that either characterize all police officers as terrible human beings or, vice versa, that have for too long characterized people of color, especially African-American men and women, as threats.

    We can't stand for either of those things. And the second results in the loss of life based on your skin. And the other one puts police officers in danger. We have to move forward in the momentum that built long before today, but certainly that today demands an acceleration of.

    And I'm proud L.A. is taking those steps.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, just — we should just point out, though, that the Black Lives Matter group and others are saying this — these cuts aren't nearly enough in the police department. They're saying there should be a 90 percent cut below what the city was already spending there in Los Angeles.

    They want to cut the number of police. In fact, some are saying get rid of the department altogether, virtually.

    But I'm assuming you're saying, this is as far as you're going to go?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti:

    No, there's always more. And as we have a stronger economy, let's continue investing in those things.

    How do we have so many people without health care? How is it that you can live 12 years less if you're growing up in Watts than Bel Air here, that women who are black have a four to six times higher rate of dying in childbirth? That's something we can all embrace together.

    But I want to be very clear, too, that this is something in which folks who would say, let's get rid of our police departments, I respectfully disagree. I have seen police officers intervene to break up sex trafficking rings, to make sure that a woman experiencing domestic violence has safety, who have mentored young people.

    We have to change models and cultures, but not get rid of the idea of having peace officers. I want to have heroes all over our communities and investments in our young people.

    And the idea that we have to choose between those two is the wrong dichotomy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In that connection, you said just in the last few days — and I'm quoting — "The vast majority do this job selflessly and with the honor and dignity befitting the badge."

    But we know, Mayor Garcetti, in the last few days, there have been a number of incidents involving Los Angeles police and these protesters. We have some video to show, in fact, some we showed earlier in the "NewsHour." These are scenes that have played out on social media.

    One of them, in one case, there was a youth — the police used a baton on someone who was standing there peacefully. In other cases, a police car drove into people in the street. There was another instance where officers smashed the windows of a car that was sitting there, dragged the person out of the car.

    How does all this square with your description of police officers, most of whom you say are acting with the dignity that befits the badge?

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti:

    Yes, we have hundreds of thousands of incidents that happen in any given year, and even in the toughest times.

    And there should be accountability always. We have an independent inspector general, a police commission made up of citizens, not the police officers, who investigate these, and those should be investigated and should trouble us, although I always caution people, one angle, one camera thing may tell not the entire story.

    For instance, the car that was backing away was taking projectiles. And we had seen an officer get a cracked skull and nearly die.

    That said, I know that policing is an extremely tough job, but protesters should be protected. We should always have accountability. And I hope that we lift up the stories of the amazing moments we saw where folks had dialogue, where they hugged, where they took knees, where they engaged, as well as holding anything that violates policy in our city and holding those individuals accountable.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But are these incidents and any others — any other questionable incidents like them, are they all being investigated?

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti:

    Yes, 100 percent.

    And our inspector general is available for anybody else who has ones that need investigation. It's something that is not new now. I know a lot of people may be having these interactions for the first time in their life. That is something that we set up, not only years ago, but decades ago, in our police department here.

    And that accountability has to be for anybody, whether they're a government employee, member of the public. And no badge should hide that. No title should hide that, as well as for the public as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mayor Garcetti, I'm sure you know that a number of the folks who are involved in the protests, though, are saying, investigating isn't good enough.

    They're calling on the police chief, your police chief, Michel Moore, to step down, to be fired, some of them, I even heard today on the steps of city hall calling for you to step down.

    How do you answer this?

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti:

    Well, that's part of being a leader. I don't think I have been in office a day when somebody either from this direction or that direction doesn't want me to step down.

    But I think we're called to these moments to define with action and not with words what we do. I'm very proud of the things we have done in this city, whether it's together raising a minimum wage, making college free, making sure that we can have a system that invents in young people who are most at risk in our communities.

    This is a moment where we either will meet the moment or we will miss the moment. I don't intend to miss the moment. I know that this is excruciatingly difficult work. It's excruciatingly difficult to be a protester calling for justice through the rage, to be a police officer exercising restraint and to be a guardian on the line.

    To be a police chief right now, there is nothing you can do right. But I do believe there are actions we can take that, in the face of criticism, 20 years from now, when we look back, say changed the paradigm, opened the door, built a more just society.

    These are the birth pangs of finally birthing a true racial — multiracial democracy in America. And there are things you can do. If you're a mayor out there, do the eight things that will reduce police killings by 72 percent statistically. We have done all eight. And we pledge to do a number more.

    Help police officers have the mental health care. Compensate them well enough to make sure you're getting the people that you want. Demand that there's accountability, and engage in not just the criminal justice system, but so much more, because structural racism lives in the heart of so many people in America. We have to own that.

    And we have to say too that it manifests not just in the criminal justice system, but we have to say that it manifests in our health care system, our jobs and economy, in our education.

    And it is time for us finally to seize this moment, to make sure George Floyd didn't die in vain, that Breonna Taylor, whose birthday is today, that we learn the lessons that people should not die because of the color of their skin, and that we must find a common humanity between us all, whether it's a police officer and somebody who pays their salary, whether it's a young person of a different color, or whether it's people who live in different parts of this country.

    It is time for us to finally heal America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just in a word, you are standing by your police chief right now?

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti:

    Oh, our police chief made one comment that I said, if it was in his heart, he would no longer be police chief. He corrected himself within seconds. But I know that often doesn't make the second part of the news.

    There is no moral equivalent of looting and murder. He knows that. I know that. He is a reformer who came in after the Rampart scandal as the captain to clean up Rampart, did a tremendous job. And we all are called to leave. We don't have time right now to late-night comments that are made when you're tired.

    If you have that in your heart, you're not working for me. I know that's not his heart.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, we thank you very much.

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti:

    As always. Strength and love to you.

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