Klobuchar: “We didn't wave a Bible in the air for a photo-op. We placed our hand on that Bible and swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. The enemy we face now is racism. The enemy we face now is injustice….It is time to get to work. It is time to do our jobs. ”
WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke on the Senate floor about how, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police, the Senate must take action to reform the justice system, address economic disparities, and protect the right to vote. In her remarks, she also discussed the need for criminal accountability to the fullest extent of the law for George Floyd’s murder.
Full transcript of remarks below and video available HERE.
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to honor a life lost, share in the grief of a family and a nation in pain, and call for this body to take action to reform a system that's been broken for too long. George Floyd should be alive today, but he isn't. He was murdered by police in my state, a death both horrifying and inhumane but not unique. We literally saw his life evaporate before our eyes. The whole country saw it. The whole world saw it. We know that our community in Minneapolis and across America, our African American community, has seen this horror before and has experienced injustice for far too long. They’ve had enough. They are angry and in pain, and they are calling out for justice. They have had enough. They are angry and in pain, and they are calling out for justice. Senators, we cannot answer with silence. That would make us complicit. We cannot answer with what the president called dominance. That would make us monsters. We cannot answer with using churches as props and bibles as props and inflaming violence. We must answer with action.
That's what makes us lawmakers. For 13 years here in Washington, change has come inch by inch when we should be miles ahead. I picked that time because that's when I first got here. That's when we first started doing work on crack cocaine and the sensing disparity and I've seen those changes but it has been inch by inch. First there needs to be justice for George Floyd. There needs to be criminal accountability to the fullest extent of the law. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has taken over the investigation and prosecution of the case and I have full faith in his conviction for justice in this case and beyond. Sweeping reform starts with accountability in this individual case, but it doesn't end there. We all know that these officers work within a bigger system, so that is why I've called for a full-scale investigation into the patterns and practices of racially discriminatory policing in the Minneapolis police by the Department of Justice. In addition to ongoing local, state, and federal investigations.
Senator Smith and I led a request with 26 senators asking the Justice Department to conduct what is called the pattern and practice investigation. This afternoon the Minnesota Department of Human Rights announced that they are going to investigate the police department as well. The words engraved on the Supreme Court building, equal justice under law, we know have never really been true for millions of African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and other minority groups. There is systematic racism at every level of our judicial system, and that calls for systematic change.
We must take action to end unconstitutional discriminatory policing across the country. We can start by making sure that police misconduct is independently investigated and that we hold officers criminally accountable when they break the law and violate the trust that is needed between law enforcement officers and the people they have sworn to protect.
We also need strong federal requirements for state and local police to collect and report data on the use of force. Right now a patchwork of local policies, many of which allow local police to avoid accountability, make it far too difficult to identify and address patterns of discrimination and excessive force in police departments. Better data will help hold officers and departments accountable.
Broader criminal justice reform, the standard for use of force, all of those things must change. As I mentioned, we have done something, we have passed the First Step Act when it comes to sentencing, but now we need to take on the Second Step Act to create incentives for states to restore discretion for mandatory sentencing for nonviolent offenders and reform the conditions in state prisons and local jails. And we know these conditions have gotten even worse during the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier today we held a hearing in the judiciary committee about the continued injustice we are seeing in our prison system during this pandemic. While some people like Paul Manafort have been transferred to home confinement, others like Andrea Circle Bear or Andrea High Bear, who was serving 26 months for a nonviolent drug offense and had just given birth on a ventilator. Why? She was exposed to the virus. So the question is why did someone, like a pregnant woman with a preexisting condition, an American Indian woman, who was there on a nonviolent offense, why was she there in the prison system and Paul Manafort gets out.
We should also create a diverse bipartisan clemency advisory board, one that includes victim advocates as well as prison and sentencing reform advocates that would look at these issues from a different perspective. We should strengthen post conviction reviews with conviction integrity units across the country. According to data from the national registry of exonerations, there are currently fewer than 60 conviction integrity units in the United States, and many of these are too weak to be effective. Attorney General Ellison and I have been working with prosecutors in Minnesota to set up a conviction integrity unit in the Twin Cities with strong, strong standards for Independence and transparency. This needs to happen nationally. And we should also expand post conviction sentencing reviews, ensuring justice isn't just looking back at a case to see if the evidence is right. It's also looking to see if the sentence is right in a situation.
All of this, expanding our nation's drug court, something that I've been leading on in the Senate for years, changing that conversation about drug and alcohol treatment, reforming the cash bail system. If there is anything that we as a U.S. Senate can do to eliminate injustice within our justice system, we should do it and we should do it now. Talk is no longer enough. We know that this pandemic has shed a light on the injustice that we have already seen. As Senator Durbin, who is here, and I have discussed about the prison system today.
We also see it in the number of people dying. In Louisiana, African Americans account for 60% of the deaths, but 33% of the population. In Georgia a study of eight hospitals found that 80% of their COVID-19 patients were African Americans yet 30% of the population. The workers on the front line, the people that are working not just in the hospitals, not just in the emergency rooms, but in the grocery stores, driving the public transportation. They are getting this virus, this sometimes fatal virus, at a much higher rate. This calls for not only the reforms that I laid out and that I've been advocating for years, but it also calls for investment like Jim Clyburn's plan to invest in underserved areas, impoverished areas that have been that way for a long, long time. Senator Booker is carrying that bill in the U.S. Senate.
Martin Luther king once said we are all tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one of us directly affects all of us indirectly. And that means in the long term, an economy that works for everyone, with fair wages, with child care, with retirement savings, closing the wealth gap, blacks and Latinos have a tenth of the median income right now of the white households. It means voting rights, the scene that we saw in Wisconsin where people were standing in the rain with homemade masks and garbage bags in the rain, just to be able to vote, risking their lives and their health while the president of the United States was able to vote in the luxury of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, because he could get a mail in ballot from Palm Beach, Florida.
That's the split screen for you. That's why people are out peacefully marching. That's what they are angry about. It is police misconduct. It is the murder of George Floyd. It is the long-time economic disparities, but it is also the long-time suppression of the vote and the unfairness of all of this. This has been a devastating time for Minnesota. But as George Floyd's family who I had the honor to talk with at length this weekend said, ‘We cannot sink to the level of our oppressors and we must not endanger others during this pandemic. We will demand and ultimately force lasting change by shining a light on this and by winning justice.’ That's what they are talking about in Minnesota today. That was the spirit I saw when my husband and I went to drop off food where hundreds of people were there and thousands of bags of groceries because their grocery store in that neighborhood had been burned to the core because their stores had been looted, not by the peaceful, righteous marchers, but the people that were hiding behind them. I will end with this.
A few years ago I went to Selma, Alabama, with Representative John Lewis, like so many senators have done. 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 be better if only we put in the work. That weekend, after 48 years, the white police chief of Montgomery handed his police badge to Congressman Lewis and publicly apologized on behalf of the police for not protecting him 48 years before and not protecting his freedom marchers. I don't want to take 48 years for my city and my state to heal or for our nation to fix a justice system that's been broken since it was built. I want justice now. The people of this country deserve justice now. Everyone has a role to play in coming back from these crises.
The protesters are shining a light on injustice that we pushed into the shadows for too long. The front line workers and volunteers are serving the communities they love and they are looking to all of us to deliver the reforms we’ve promised, not just in speeches, not just in campaigns, but in reality. Not just for George Floyd and his legacy should be so much more than those nine minutes or Philando Castile or Jamar Clark or Breonna Taylor because we took an oath. We took an oath, colleagues. We didn't wave a Bible in the air for a photo-op. We placed our hand on that Bible and swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. The enemy we face now is racism. The enemy we face now is injustice. I don't know what else to say because too many words have been said and maybe it's time to stop talking. Maybe it is time to start acting. It is time to get to work. It is time to do our jobs.
Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.