“AMERICAN CITIES REBUILDING”: SEN. CORY BOOKER ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Since the onset of the 2020 pandemic, America’s cities have faced unique challenges such as rebuilding their devasted economies, providing adequate healthcare and education for their residents, fixing a broken criminal justice system, and dealing with the ever-growing threat of climate change.  In order to address these issues, The WNET Group recently participated in a livestream journalism series called, American Cities Rebuilding, for the third consecutive year.  The series, made in partnership with PBS stations across the country, and sponsors Wells Fargo and PSE&G, brings together the top minds of today for conversations on the unique problems cities are facing and what they can do to bounce back, better than ever.  New Jersey Senator Cory Booker recently joined us, as part of American Cities Rebuilding, to discuss how criminal justice reform is an essential step in helping cities rebuild in a post-pandemic reality.

Aired on January 19, 2023

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JACK FORD.

SINCE THE ONSET OF THE 2020 PANDEMIC, AMERICAN CITIES HAVE FACED PARTICULAR CHALLENGES THE LIKES OF WHICH THEY HAD NEVER SEEN BEFORE.

REBUILDING A DEVASTATED ECONOMY, PROVIDING ADEQUATE HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION FOR THEIR RESIDENTS, FIXING A BROKEN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, AND DEALING WITH THE EVER GROWING THREAT OF CLIMATE CHANGE HAVE ALL COME TO THE FOREFRONT AS SOME OF THE MOST CRITICAL ISSUES AFFECTING OUR CITIES AND PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN THEM.

IN ORDER TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES THE WNET GROUP RECENTLY PARTICIPATE IN THE A LIVE STREAMED JOURNALISM SERIES CALLED 'AMERICAN CITIES REBUILDING' FOR THE THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR.

MADE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PBS STATIONS AND WELLS FARGO BRINGS TOGETHER THE TOP MINDS OF TODAY FOR CONVERSATIONS ON THE UNIQUE PROBLEMS CITIES ARE FACING AND WHAT THEY CAN DO TO BOUNCE BACK HOPEFULLY BETTER THAN EVER.

I HAD A CHANCE TO SPEAK WITH NEW JERSEY SENATOR CORY BOOKER AS PART OF AMERICAN CITIES REBUILDING ABOUT HOW CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM IS AN ESSENTIAL STEP IN HELPING CITIES REBUILD IN A POST PANDEMIC REALITY.

TAKE A LOOK.

WE WANT TO WELCOME TO THIS SESSION NEW JERSEY SENATOR CORY BOOKER, WHO IS GOING TO JOIN US AS WE CONTINUE OUR 'AMERICAN CITIES REBUILDING CONVERSATION'. SENATOR, WELCOME.

ALWAYS GOOD TO SEE YOU.

THANK YOU, SO MUCH.

WANT TO TALK ABOUT POLICE REPERFORM AND WHERE WE ARE NOW AND I WANT TO START WITH A BIGGER PICTURE QUESTION IF I CAN, AND THAT IS WHY YOU PERSONALLY ARE SO DEEPLY INVESTED IN THE IDEA THAT POLICE REFORM IS SO ESSENTIAL TO HELP WITH AMERICAN CITIES AND COMMUNITIES IN THEIR REBUILDING AND MOVING FORWARD.

WELL, I LIVE IN NEWARK, NEW JERSEY, AND HAVE FOR THE LAST QUARTER CENTURY.

WHEN I MOVED THERE, WE HAD A REALLY SERIOUS CRIME PROBLEM.

AND EVENTUALLY I BECAME MAYOR AND WAS TASKED WITH DRIVING DOWN CRIME.

IT WAS THE NUMBER ONE ISSUE FOR VOTERS IN MY CITY.

AND WE BEGAN TO MAKE TREMENDOUS HEADWAY, BUT WE SOON FOUND OUT THERE WAS THIS LONG LEGACY IN NEWARK OF EROSIONS OF TRUST BETWEEN POLICE AND COMMUNITIES, AND ULTIMATELY REALLY UNDERMINED THE PROGRESS WE WERE MAKING, AND WE HAD TO DO A LOT.

THE DOJ CAME IN AND OTHERS, AND THEY SHOWED ME THAT WHEN YOU SCRAPED THE DATA AND ACTUALLY CREATED MORE TRANSPARENT AND I ACCOUNTABILITY, YOU SAW WHAT THE POLICE WERE DOING THAT IN MANY WAYS FOR DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACTING AFRICAN AMERICAN AND LATINO COMMUNITIES AND VIOLATING CIVIL RIGHTS.

AND SO WE BEGAN A MUCH MORE EXPANSIVE VIEW OF PUBLIC SAFETY.

AND A LOT OF OUR POLICE LEADERSHIP LEANED IN UNDERSTANDING THAT THAT KIND OF TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY WOULD MAKE THE PROFESSION BETTER STRONGER, BUT ULTIMATELY BETTER ABLE TO ACHIEVE WHAT EVERYBODY WANTED, WHICH WAS A SAFE, STRONG CITY.

THIS MOVEMENT HAS BEEN SUBJECT, AS WITH SO MANY, TO FITS AND STARTS AND MAKING SOME PROGRESS, STEPPING BACK, TRYING TO REACH OUT.

CERTAINLY AFTER THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD THERE SEEMED TO BE SOME MORE MOMENTUM HERE.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE FEDERAL LEVEL FIRST.

WHERE ARE WE IN TERMS OF PROGRESS COMING AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL FOR POLICE REFORM?

WE'VE GOT TO EXPAND THE VIEW OF WHAT WE THINK OF AS POLICE REFORM INTO A MUCH BIGGER CONVERSATION ABOUT OVERALL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM.

WE KNOW THAT AT EVERY POINT IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, WE STILL HAVE DISPARITIES, WHETHER IT'S WHO'S MORE LIKELY TO GET PULLED OVER, WHO'S LIKELY TO GET STATION HOUSE ADJUSTMENTS, HIGHER CHARGES, LONGER SENTENCES, AND THE LIKE.

AND YOU SEE A LOT OF DISPARITIES IN OUR SYSTEM THAT ARE VERY PROBLEMATIC.

NOW, THERE HAVE BEEN VERY ENCOURAGING MOVES ON BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE.

I'M JUST COMING OUT OF A STAFF MEETING WHERE WE'RE TALK ABOUT STRONG ALLIANCES FOR CONSERVATIVE GROUPS FOR MORE REFORMS THAT WE'RE PUSHING.

EVERYBODY UNDERSTANDS THAT THESE FUNDAMENTAL IDEALS IN OUR COUNTRY OF LIBERTY AND JUSTICE REALLY COME TO THE POINT OF POLICING IN OUR COURT SYSTEM.

I HAVE HAD NINE YEARS IN THE SENATE NOW ALMOST EXACTLY AND HAVE BEEN VERY ENCOURAGED ABOUT HOW IN A BIPARTISAN WAY WE HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PASS SOME SIGNIFICANT LEGISLATION, AND I CONTINUE TO BE IN TALKS WITH NOT JUST POLICE REFORM, BUT OVERALL SYSTEM REFORM THAT WILL HELP TO RESTORE PEOPLE'S FAITH IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, HELP PEOPLE BELIEVE THAT WE TOGETHER AS A SOCIETY CAN MAKE OUR COMMUNITY SAFER.

AND WHAT IS WONDERFUL ABOUT THIS IS THAT THROUGH THIS ALL I'VE DEEPENED MY RELATIONSHIP WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT GROUPS.

IN FACT, THE LARGEST POLICEDOWN THAT REPRESENTS THE MAJORITY OF POLICE OFFICERS, THE FOP, HAS BEEN A TREMENDOUS PARTNER IN EVERYTHING FROM MAKING SURE WE HAVE MORE TRANSPARENCY IN POLICING TO MAKING SURE WE HAVE HELP WITH THE MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGE OF POLICE, AS WELL AS TRYING TO DRIVE IDEAS THAT WE ARE, I THINK, GOING TO SEE MORE OF IN SOCIETY THAT DON'T PUT ALL THE BURDEN FOR SAUFT ON POLICE.

POLICE OFFICERS KNOW WHEN THERE'S MORE DRUG TREATMENT, WHEN THERE'S MORE MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS INVOLVED IN HELPING PEOPLE WHO ARE IN CRISIS, THE LESS POLICE HAVE TO GET INVOLVED, THE LESS THINGS WILL GO BAD, AND THE MORE WE CREATE A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT PUBLIC SAFETY IS.

AS MY PLACE DIRECTOR SAID TO ME, TRUE PUBLIC SAFETY IS NOT HAVING A POLICE STATE.

TRUE PUBLIC SAFETY IS EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES SO WE'RE NOT RESPONDING TO CRIME BUT CREATING COMMUNITIES WHERE THAT CRIME DOESN'T HAPPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE.

TO HAVE A SPECTRUM, INCLUDING FROM LAW ENFORCEMENT, IT'S GOING TO HELP US MAKE A LOT OF PROGRESS.

SENATOR, LET ME ASK YOU THIS, AND YOU TALK ABED ABOUT THE CONVERSATIONS YOU HAD WITH OTHER ORGANIZES INVOLVED, AND THE PUBLIC.

HAVE YOU FOUND THAT USING THE RIGHT WORDS TO COMMUNICATE WHAT THIS IDEA ACTUALLY MEANS HAS BEEN HELPFUL IN MOVING FORWARD?

ABSOLUTELY.

AT THE END OF THE DAY, WE ALL WANT TO BE UNDERSTOOD, AND I THINK WHAT ADVANTAGED ME IN A LOT OF MY DISCUSSIONS WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT IS THEY UNDERSTOOD I WAS A GUY THAT WAS A MAYOR OF A CITY WITH A LOT OF CRIME.

I ROAD IN POLICE CARS FOR COUNTLESS HOURS, WITNESSED THE INCREDIBLE COURAGE OF OFFICERS, KNOW HOW DANGEROUS THEIR JOB IS, AND STARTING WITH THAT BASIS OF EMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING, REALLY CREATED A GREAT FOUNDATION WHERE MY COLLEAGUES IN THE NEGOTIATIONS DID NOT FEEL THEY WERE UNDER ATTACK, FELT UNDERSTOOD, AND HAD A COMMON SET OF VALUES ABOUT THIS NATION NEEDING TO DO A LOT MORE TO REALLY HELP AND SUPPORT OUR POLICE DEPARTMENTS.

THAT DOESN'T NEGATE THE CHALLENGING ISSUES OF UNDERSTANDING THE HISTORY OF POLICING IN THIS COUNTRY, THE CHALLENGES THAT MANY HAVE FACED IN TERMS OF RACIAL DISPARITIES AND MORE.

SO AGAIN, IT'S JUST INDICATIVE OF THE LARGER CLIMATE IN OUR COUNTRY.

ARE WE SPEAKING AT EACH OTHER OR WITH EACH OTHER?

ARE WE SEEKING TO SCORE POLITICAL ADVANTAGE OR COME TO COMMON GROUND AND COMMON UNDERSTANDING?

WE HAVE SO MUCH WE AGREE ON IN THIS IN ADDNATION IN TERMS OF CT OUR DIALOGUE HAS BEEN SUFFERING A LOT FROM A CULTURE OF CONTEMPT WHERE WE'RE NOT SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER, TO LEAD WITH EMPATHY, BUT INSTEAD JUST TO TRY TO SCORE POLITICAL POINTS.

SO I'M HOPEFUL THAT THIS CONVERSATION WILL GROW, BECOME MORE NUANCED AND THAT CAN USE THE WISDOM OF MANY DIFFERENT STAKEHOLDERS TO COME TO A CONCLUSION WHERE WE HAVE A SAFER, FAIRER, MORE JUST SYSTEM OF POLICING IN AMERICA.

QUICK QUESTION FOR YOU.

ON THE HEELS OF THE MIDTERMS, AS FAR AS WE KNOW THIS JUNCTURE, WHAT ALL THE RESULTS ARE, HAVE ANY CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM THAT THIS MIGHT HELP, THE RESULTS MAGNIFICENT HELP TO MOVE THINGS FORWARD?

I'M A PRISONER OF HOPE ALWAYS, AND I THINK WE ARE DEALING WITH A TIME IN OUR NATION WHERE A LOT OF THE EXTREME VOICES IN THIS COUNTRY ARE BEING REJECTED BY VOTERS.

AND I DON'T SAY THAT IN A PARTISAN WAY, BECAUSE CLEARLY NOW WE ARE LIKELY TO HAVE A CONGRESS THAT HAS A HOUSE CONTROLLED BY REPUBLICANS, SENATE CONTROLLED BY DEMOCRATS.

BUT I JUST REALLY HOPE THAT WE ARE LEARNING LESSONS IN YOUR POLITICAL SPHERE, THAT THIS CULTURE OF CONTEMPT WE'RE SEEING IN OUR POLITICS, THIS ZERO-SUM GAME WE'RE SEEING IN OUR POLITICS, SENSE OF MOIGT MAKES RIGHT, OR DEMOCRAT, NORMS BEING ERODED, THAT AT THE END OF THE DAY WE'RE A NATION THAT THE GREATEST CALLING, SEEN IN EVERYTHING FROM OUR IDEAL TO E PLURIBUS UNUM TO OUR PLEDGE THAT CALLS US TO PUT MORE INTO THIS ONE NATION INDY VISIBLE, I'M HOPINGT A SEASON THAT'S GONE SO FAR ONE WAY, WHERE WE CAN DEAL WITH ISSUES FROM POLICING TO IMMIGRATION AND SEE THE TRUTH THERE IS THAT THERE IS A LOT OF COMMON GROUND AND A LOT OF WORK WE CAN DO TOGETHER TO MAKE US SAFER AND STRONGER AND MORE PROSPEROUS AS A NATION.

LAST QUESTION FOR YOU.

SHIFTING TOP,S, YOU'RE A MEMBER OF THE -- AND WE'VE SEEN THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE HAS GOTTEN INVOLVE IN THE DISPERSING FUNDS THAT WERE ALLOCATED THROUGH THE INFLATION REDUCTION ACT TO HELP WITH FARMERS AND THE ECONOMIC DISTRESS THEY ARE FINDING THEMSELVES IN.

GIVE US A SENSE OF WHAT'S BEING DONE AND HOW IT CAN HELP PEOPLE.

WE HAVE A FOOD SYSTEM THAT IS SO INTEGRATED, WE ARE ALL PART OF THE SAME FOOD SYSTEM.

AND SO INJUSTICES IN ANY PART, WHETHER IT'S FARM WORKERS, END CONSUMERS IT'S ALL RELATED.

WE HAVE A FARM SYSTEM WHERE WE TELL PEOPLE WHAT IS A HEALTHY DIET, BUT ONLY 2% OF OUR AG SUBSIDIES GO TO THE THINGS WE TELL AMERICANS TO EAT THE MAJORITY OF, FRUITS AND VEGETABLES.

BECAUSE SO MUCH OF THE CONCENTRATION, FARMERS ARE BEING SQUEEZED ECONOMICALLY WITH THEIR SHARE OF THE CONSUMER DOLLAR GOING DOWN DRAMATICALLY AS THESE LARGE CHEMICAL COMPANIES OR CORPORATIONS ARE PUTTING TREMENDOUS ECONOMIC PRESSURE ON FAMILY FARMERS WHO HAVE HAD THEIR FARMS FOR GENERATIONS BUT NOW ARE SUDDENLY LOSING THEM.

AND SO THERE ARE A LOT OF OBVIOUS THINGS WE COULD BE DOING TO FIX OUR FOOD SYSTEM THAT WOULD HELP THE HEALTH OF AMERICANS WHO RIGHT NOW MOST AMERICANS DON'T REALIZE WE HAVE A GOVERNMENT WHERE 1 OUT OF $3 WE SPEND IN GOVERNMENT IS HEALTH CARE BECAUSE WE HAVE AN EXPLOSION OF DISEASES WITH HALF OF OUR POPULATION NOW DIABETIC OR PREDIABETIC.

AND ALWL THE WAY, AGAIN, TO THE STRUGGLING FARMERS.

THERE'S THINGS WE CAN BE DOING TO ALIGN WITH SUBSIDIES, INCENTIVES WITH THE AGRICULTUAL PRACTICES THAT EMPOWER ENVIRONMENT.

AND FINALLY, START ENFORCING THE ANTI-TRUST LAWS THAT WERE USED GENERATIONS AGO TO KIND OF STOP THE AG SECTOR CONSOLIDATION THAT OUR ANCESTORS, FROM FDR AND TRUMAN AND EISENHOWER SAW AS SUCH A THREAT TO THE HEALTH AND WELL BEING OF FARMERS.

I'M ONE OF THESE FOLKS THAT MOVED TO THE AGRICULTURAL COMMITTEE AS A NEW JERSEY SENATOR KNOWING WE COULD NOT ONLY DO BETTER BUT CREATE A THRIVING HEALTH ECONOMICALLY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY THAT IS REALLY WORTHY OF OUR GREAT NATION.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER, WE ALWAYS APPRECIATE YOU TAKING SOME TIME TO SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND UPDATES WITH US.

THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN, AND YOU TAKE CARE.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

ALWAYS GREAT TO BE IN CONVERSATION WITH YOU, AND I'M GRATEFUL FOR YOU GUYS HAVING ME ON.

THANKS, SENATOR.

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