Klobuchar: “I don't want it to take another 48 years for my state to heal or for this country to heal or for our nation to fix a justice system that's been broken since it was built.”
Klobuchar reiterated call for pattern and practice investigation into Minneapolis Police Department
WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke on the Senate floor about the urgent need to address the systemic racism at every level of our justice system and to implore Leader McConnell to bring the Justice in Policing Act to the floor for a vote.
Full transcript of remarks as delivered below and video available HERE.
Madam President, I come to the floor today because it is time to end systemic racism with systemic change. So I'm calling on my colleagues to work with us to immediately bring the Justice in Policing Act to the floor..
George Floyd should be alive today, but he isn't -- He was murdered in my state. He was murdered in my city.
He was murdered on videotape. So the whole world could see it. The whole world saw as his life evaporated before our eyes, our nation has been left in pain, grieving, marching, and demanding justice.
His murder has galvanized a nationwide movement for justice, both for George Floyd and for the Black community and communities of color across America that have experienced injustice for far too long. Not just injustice at the hands of the police, but also economic injustice, educational injustice. And if anything, these last few months, this pandemic has shed a big magnifying glass, put it on top of what's been happening for way too long. And as we grieve this loss, we have work to do in our own state and that is justice in this particular case, including accountability for the officers involved. Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison, who I have known for many, many years - I am very sure that he will have full faith and has forever in his conviction for justice and he is pursuing this case against the officers.
But as lawmakers, we must also make systemic change. We cannot answer our nation's calls for justice with silence, that would make us complicit. We cannot answer with what the President called domination, that would make us monsters. We must answer with action. That is what makes us lawmakers.
Since I've come to the Senate 13 years ago, I've watched as change has come inch by inch and I see Senator Durbin with us today who led the effort on changing the disparity on crack cocaine. I was a new member of the Judiciary Committee when he led that work. I see Senator Booker here, and both of them, as well as a number of us worked on the First Step Act. That was really important for us to reduce sentencing for nonviolent offenders. But again, it's inch by inch. We must move by miles. There is systemic racism at every level of our justice system and it has taken far too long to right these wrongs.
And it's on us in Congress, especially on those of us who've worked in this system, mayors, prosecutors, attorney generals, those of us that have seen what is happening, have a special obligation to make this change. We took an oath as senators. We didn't wave a Bible in the air for a photo op. We placed our hands on that Bible and swore to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
That enemy we face right now, it is racism, it is injustice. This is not a time for half measures and equivocation, it is a time for real change and swift action including holding police officers accountable for misconduct and violence, changing police practices, and making our justice system more transparent.
There are a lot of good police officers out there, a lot of good police officers, but they are brought down just as our entire community is. When you have someone like Derek Chauvin commit the murder that he did. When they watch the videotape they feel like we feel and that is why this bill is so important, the Justice in Policing Act, this comprehensive legislation changes federal law so that officers can be held accountable for misconduct and increases that transparency and improves police training.
The Justice and Policing Act will hold officers accountable for misconduct and violence by changing the federal use of force standard from reasonable to necessary. So that force is only used when necessary to prevent death or serious injury and it requires states to adopt similar standards if they want to receive certain federal funding. Changing the standard is not just some little legalese word that makes a change - it will save lives.
When these changes have been adopted at the local level, there has been a significant drop in the use of force. These words can be the difference between whether a prosecutor can prove a case against a police officer or not. People ask what's happened around the country with some of these cases, some of these blatant things that people recently have seen on videotape in my state, Philando Castille, which was in a neighboring jurisdiction to Minneapolis, look at what these standards are. Lawmakers have control over these standards. Even when a case like that was prosecuted with excellent prosecutors, who did their all. They were not able to get a guilty verdict. Look at the standards.
In addition to improving the way that individual officers are held accountable for misconduct, the bill holds police departments accountable because we know that there are systematic changes that are needed at police departments. I have called on the Department of Justice along with 26 of my colleagues to conduct a full scale investigation into the patterns and practices of the Minneapolis Police Department. We have waited weeks for a response. Under the Obama administration 25 of these pattern and practice investigations were brought. Under the Trump Justice Department, just one unit of one department in Springfield, Massachusetts was examined.
Now, just as I headed to the floor here, we got a letter from the Justice Department, but they did not commit to this investigation. They said they were going to continue to look at the evidence. Meanwhile, the governor of Minnesota and the state human rights department has had to fill in.
They are conducting their own investigation and I have faith that they will do the right thing. But again, this should be coming from the Justice Department. We know that Minnesota is not the only state as recent events have shown us that have experienced misconduct from the police and have experienced a pattern and practice that need to be examined. But again, we wait that investigation from the Department of Justice. After what we saw on the video, it is not warranted in this case to have such an investigation?
I would ask the Justice Department under Donald Trump and under William Barr what facts would warrant an investigation if not these. In addition to improving the tools to hold police accountable, we also need to ensure that there is transparency so we can once again build trust with our communities.
What does this mean? Well, it means that we have officers that actually get in trouble in one department and then they go to another department and no one even knows what happened. It means that the public did not have access to information about serious issues of misconduct that are held tightly within city departments and city archives in some place, when in fact it's a matter of life and death for the people of this country and of course we need wholesale changes to the way policing happens.
I worked with Senator Smith and Gillibrand to include provisions in the bill to require states to ban the use of chokeholds in policing to receive certain federal funding and ban them overall.
This would be an important change that actually would help with prosecutions across the country if this practice was actually banned. George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers was horrific and inhumane and sadly, as we know, not the first or last time a Black man was taken too soon by those in uniform. We must stop this cycle of violence to get something done.
We have an opportunity to make real change here. And if Leader McConnell refuses to bring this bill to the floor, he and his colleagues who support him are on the wrong side of history. In the words of George Floyd's family, who I had the honor to speak with, we will demand and ultimately force lasting change by shining a light on this and by winning justice.
I'll conclude with this a few years ago, like so many of my colleagues, I went to Selma, Alabama with Representative John Lewis. I stood there on the bridge where he had his head beaten in. I was in awe of his persistence, his resilience and his faith that this country could always do better. That weekend after 48 years the white police chief of Montgomery handed his police badge to Congressman Lewis and he publicly apologized on behalf of the police for not protecting Congressman Lewis and the freedom marchers 48 years before.
I don't want it to take another 48 years for my city to heal. I don't want it to take another 48 years for my state to heal or for this country to heal or for our nation to fix a justice system that's been broken since it was built.
I want justice now. The voices you hear from across the country, they want justice now. It is time we deliver and not just in platitudes, it is time we act and not just talk about acting. This is our moment, this is history.
So let's make history. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.