Mr. President, I come to the Senate floor today to remember those who have been affected by the tragic events in my state of Minnesota and across this country over the last week.
I am here today to remember the lost … to share in the grief … and to stand with the community as we seek justice and healing and solutions together.
Last week was a tough, tough week in Minnesota. There have been and there will be a lot of bleak moments, when all anyone can do is to hug their family and friends and ask why. How can this happen? How can we make sense of the senseless? And how can we go on as people and as a community that’s hurting so badly?
But amid all the horror, there is hope. Sunday I spoke at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Saint Paul as well as Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and – when I looked around that room – I saw sorrow, but I also saw hope. And being there with the grieving members of our community gave me hope – because I know that by supporting one another, hearts can be mended, and neighborhoods healed. We have the power to do that – together.
We’ve lost so many this week.
What can you say to a mother whose precious baby boy is killed in a drive-by shooting while sitting in his father’s car in North Minneapolis? And what do you say to that same mother whose other precious child – the little boy’s baby sister – was also injured by gunfire?
And what can you say to comfort elementary school children who’ve suddenly lost that friendly face in the lunchroom who always gave them a smile, a kind word, a healthy snack?
There are no words that can take away the pain of losing a beloved son, partner, and friend. And Philando Castile was beloved – a “gentle soul,” in his mother’s words. He loved the kids at his school, and they loved “Mr. Phil” right back.
He knew all the kids’ names – more than 500 of them. He learned who had allergies and who might need a little extra help. And yes, with a little playful nagging, he got them to eat their vegetables.
In short, he cared about them, and he let them know it. Everyone knew it. And my state’s outpouring of grief and love and support in the wake of his loss and the loss of two-year-old Le’vonte King Jason Jones is a powerful reminder that being a friend is never a wasted effort – that even the smallest kindness shown to the smallest person makes this world that much better.
What can you say?
And what can you say to those five devastated families in Dallas?
Officer Brent Thompson? He had just gotten married a few weeks ago. His bride was a fellow transit officer. Officer Michael Smith? He’d served in the Dallas Police Department for 26 years and volunteered as a mentor to at-risk kids. And officer Patrick Zamarripa? He served three tours of duty in Iraq in the U.S. Navy. The only thing he loved more than the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Cowboys was his two-year-old daughter, Lincoln.
What do you tell those 21 police officers in Saint Paul who were injured Saturday night? There were so many peaceful protests over Philando Castile’s death. That is part of our democracy—how we make change. But what happened on Saturday night on Highway 94 was far from a peaceful protest. We cannot achieve justice through injustice.
So where do we go from here? We know that nothing we can say will take away the hurt. But here’s what we can do: We can narrow the gap between us.
First, we must pursue justice. When I served for eight years as Hennepin County Attorney, I always believed that my job was to convict the guilty and protect the innocent. That is what justice calls on us to do today.
That is why I joined with Governor Dayton, Lieutenant Governor Smith, Senator Franken, Congresswoman McCollum, and Congressman Ellison in calling for a federal investigation into Philando Castile’s death. We need to understand what happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. Philando, his family, and all those children who loved him deserve nothing less.
Second, we must fight for a criminal justice system that works for everyone. We all know people who’ve been caught up in a criminal justice system that can be harsh and unfair. It destroys individual lives and pulls families apart. That’s why we simply must pass criminal justice reform. I have long supported important policy changes, including videotaped interrogations, reforms to the eyewitness process, body camera trials, diversity in hiring, law enforcement resources and training, and meaningful and consistent outreach to our citizens.
Third, we need for commonsense gun reform. I was proud to join my colleagues on the Senate floor demanding changes to make our communities safer. And one of those changes we should be able to find consensus on is on improving background checks.
The Senate’s failure to pass bipartisan background checks legislation has been one of the biggest disappointments of my time in the Senate. You know why? Because I remembered those little kids from my time as County Attorney. Byron Phillips killed in North Minneapolis on his front porch. Tyesha Edwards, killed by a bullet while doing her homework at the kitchen table. And now little Le’vonte.
Americans from across the nation and across the political spectrum support commonsense proposals – such as requiring background checks at gun shows – by wide margins.
In honor of all those lost in Charleston and Orlando … and San Bernardino … and Newtown … and Aurora … and North Minneapolis and cities across this nation … I will continue to stand with my colleagues until we take action on these commonsense measures.
I’m reminded of President Obama’s beautiful words at a service remembering more Americans lost to gun violence – this time, in Charleston, South Carolina:
“For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation. Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed – the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.”
My friends, we go back to stem the tide. But justice in our laws is not enough, because – in the famous words of Dr. King – “We know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”
When we see lingering health disparities … far too many families working so hard but still struggling to get ahead … and stubborn achievement gaps in our schools, we know that there is work to do. The solutions here are a deep commitment to an economic future for our cities, a devotion to training our kids and keeping them in school, to opening the doors of our businesses big and small to the people of neighborhoods like the one I was in yesterday in Saint Paul.
Finally, we must all work to protect the innocents among us – especially our children.
Two-year-olds should not be shot on the street in North Minneapolis. Four-year-olds should not witness a man die in the car seat right in front of them. Nobody should have to explain to a classroom of children why their beloved friend “Mr. Phil” doesn’t feed them lunch anymore.
We’re better than this. All of us are better than this.
I recently visited a mosque in Minneapolis and heard the story of a Muslim family who had gone out to eat at a restaurant. This guy walks by, looks at them, and out of the blue says, “You all go home. Go home.” And the little girl looks at her mom and says, “How can we go home? We just came out to dinner. I don’t want to eat dinner at home. We’re eating out.” And as sweet and funny as it is, you think of the innocence of that child, because she only thought of one home and that was there in Minnesota.
Minnesota is her home. America is her home. And America is better than this.
America is better than angry words directed at strangers in a restaurant. America is better than babies being shot on the street in broad daylight. America is better than Philando Castile losing his life. And America is better than throwing concrete chunks at a police officer in Saint Paul and five Dallas cops being taken from the beat forever.
So I am here today to stand with the people who are not satisfied with how things are. The people who are ready to work to make things better. The people who are the helpers and the peacemakers. Together, we can help make this world more peaceful … and more just.
Thank you. I yield the floor.