Klobuchar: “In this moment, as people are still marching and demanding change, we cannot confront these urgent issues with half measures or equivocation.”
WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke on the Senate floor about the urgent need to pass meaningful, comprehensive legislation to make systemic changes to our justice system. In her remarks, she expressed her support for the Justice in Policing Act as well as concern that the bill Leader McConnell brought to the floor does not respond to the nationwide call for justice.
Last week, Klobuchar spoke on the Senate floor about the urgent need to address systemic racism at every level of our justice system.
Full transcript of remarks as delivered below and video available HERE.
Mr. President, I rise today on another matter, and that is to urge the Senate to consider meaningful comprehensive legislation to make systemic changes to our justice system that will save lives, save lives in the Black community, save lives in all communities of color that have experienced injustice for far too long. I'm deeply concerned that the bill on the floor this week fails to meet this moment. It has been nearly one month since George Floyd was murdered in my state.
We all watched as his life evaporated before our eyes. It was a horrible thing. People who watched it, whether they were in law enforcement, whether they were just regular citizens that saw this and it hit home to many of them for the first time. And many of them sadly in the African American community for many, many times before that, how truly unjust this is and how immoral this is. His death was horrifying and inhumane and it galvanized a nationwide movement for justice. As members of the United States Senate, we have a responsibility to respond to that call with action.
And that means when you have systemic racism, that you must address it with systemic change. Some of that is happening in our state and local governments. That's a good thing. But some of that must also happen here. This is not just an issue for one city or one state. My home state. Or is it an issue just at the local level. There's a lot of work that needs to be done at the local level. And that has been acknowledged by mayors and police chiefs across the country but there's also really important work that we must do here. I was proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Justice in Policing Act led by Senators Booker and Harris which makes comprehensive changes to our justice system that are long overdue. These reforms include police officers being held accountable for misconduct, reforming police practices, and improving transparency will be good for our nation.
The Justice in Policing Act will help prevent more tragedies like those we have seen to prevent murders. It is why it's supported by groups like the NAACP, the Leadership Conference for Human Rights and National Urban League. The House is expected to pass the bill this Thursday. And then it comes over here. But instead of taking up that bill, the Justice in Policing Act, Leader McConnell has brought a different bill to the senate floor. The Justice Act.
But my problem with it is despite the name and despite a lot of the words that we're hearing on the other side, it doesn't get us to where we need to be. In this moment as people are still marching and demanding change, we cannot confront these urgent issues with half measures
or equivocation. I have serious concerns that this bill does not respond to the nationwide call for justice. Unlike the Justice in Policing Act that is going to pass the House, the bill we are considering here on the Senate lacks critical reforms to strengthen federal pattern and practice investigations. A reform that is urgently needed after we all saw the video of the police officer standing -- police officers standing right next to each other with George Floyd pinned down, pinned to the ground. I have called on the Department of Justice with 26 other senators to conduct a full-scale investigation into the patterns and practices of the Minneapolis Police Department and any bill that we consider should make sure the civil rights division has the authority and what the resources they need to conduct a thorough investigation. By the way, our calls have still gone unheeded.
During the Obama Justice Department time period, 25 of these cases -- pattern and practice investigations were brought. During the Trump Justice Department time period, just one unit of the Springfield, Massachusetts, department went through a pattern and practice investigation. I don't know what more proof you need than the fact of the video and the fact that there were other officers standing nearby, the fact that we have called for this with 26 senators but still we await any final word from the Justice Department. They have informed us that they are still looking at this, but in the meantime, our human rights department in the state of Minnesota is stepping in to fill the void. I don't think that's the ideal way to do it. You would like a justice department that has experience doing this in other jurisdictions but our state human rights department is now stepping in and conducting its own pattern and practice investigation.
The bill on the floor fails to help states conduct their own investigations, as I just mentioned, to address systemic problems and culture training and accountability of police departments like what the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is now conducting. And by the way, with the proper resources and the proper experience, they are gleaning from former justice department officials and the like, this is one way to handle some of this in addition to the justice department. At a time where our justice department has failed to take up these investigations, this provision that is in the Justice in Policing Act is even more critical. We must also take action to put an end to practices that unnecessarily put people's lives at risk.
I worked with Senators Gillibrand and Senator Smith of my state on provisions in the Justice in Policing Act to ban federal law enforcement officers from using chokeholds and other neck restraints and to prohibit states from receiving federal funding unless they have passed laws to ban these practices, to receive certain federal funding. We have used this method in the past, and if there is significant funding attached to it, states will react. The bill on the floor this week from our Republican counterparts only ban certain types of choke holds, those that restrict air flow but not blood flow, and only in certain situations. This does not go to the point that we needed to go to, to get the kind of systematic change we need in our criminal justice system. And critically, the Republican proposal does not include necessary changes to hold individual officers accountable for misconduct like making records of police misconduct public. Real change comes with accountability, and as drafted, the Republican bill does not provide it.
That's why it is opposed by civil rights and criminal justice groups, and it is why the attorney for George Floyd's family -- and I had the honor of speaking with George Floyd's family -- he has said that this bill is, quote, in direct contrast to the demands of the people, end quote. So where do we go from here?
Well, we can start by calling up the bill that will be coming over from the House. We can start by agreeing to work together. Let's have a bipartisan process to develop the consensus bill that we need based off the bill that will be coming over to the House. As a member of the judiciary committee, I have seen what happens when we work together to get something done. That's how we passed the First Step Act which passed the senate with a vote of 87-12 by reaching across the aisle but actually doing something. Not just a bill full of platitudes or studies but actually doing something, which is what the people are calling out for now. And by the way, there are a lotof good police officers out there, including ones that work around us. And when you put strong standards in place, they meet those standards. But to allow that conduct that we saw on that video, to go without national changes to our policing would be just to say well, it's just this incident in Minnesota, which, of course, is being prosecuted by our Attorney General Keith Ellison. That's how you could resolve it if you thought it just happened once and it just happened in one state, but we know that's not true, my colleagues, we know that's not true. That is why this is so important to take action and pass an actual bill. We already started this process in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Last week, we held a hearing on these issues. We heard testimony from local leaders like St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and law enforcement officers from across the country. And I heard a lot of agreement among many of those who testified. Not all of them, but many of them. Support for banning chokeholds, establishing a national use of force policy. These are police chiefs. Creating a public database of public misconduct. And ensuring independent investigations of police-involved death, something that I pushed for in my former job. You cannot have the police department that the officer works for investigating this conduct. That is wrong, as I said so publicly years ago. There are areas where we can find agreement, but we have to mean it.
Chairman Graham said at the hearing that he hopes the judiciary committee could consider what has been proposed and, quote, come up with something in common, end quote. Well, we start with a bill that's going to be coming over from the House, the bill that has been sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Senators Booker and Harris. Instead, Leader McConnell is asking us to consider a bill that was drafted in their caucus, yes, but without the input of so many of us that have seen firsthand the damage that has been done here.
He is then moving that bill directly to the floor instead of letting the judiciary committee consider it. I think that fails to make the kind of meaningful change we need in our system. This is a moment for urgent action, but it is also a moment for fundamental change. If we respond to all of those people out there and the family of George Floyd, who I got to meet and sat across the pews from at that memorial service, if we respond with silence, then we are complicit. If we respond as the president has suggested with dominance and by waving a Bible in front of a church for a photo op, then we are monsters. But if we respond with action, meaningful action, colleagues, then we are lawmakers, and that is what the people of our states sent us to do.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.