Booker says 'moral moment' must be met with change

Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., applauded Americans protesting in the wake of the death of George Floyd Sunday, calling them a reflection of “the spirit of this country” and asking them to “stay on the streets in your nonviolent protest.”

“I'm just grateful to see this kind of nonviolent protest outpouring in the streets,” Booker said during an exclusive interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“They are leading, they're putting the pressure, they're creating a possibility that our policies can reflect the spirit of this country, that we can be, in the law, a more beloved nation.”

But he said that in his career as a mayor and senator, he has “learned the hard way that this is not a system that is always explicitly done by overt racism, this is a system that’s really baked.”

Previewing the upcoming police-reform legislation Democrats aim to unveil Monday, Booker urged the nation's leaders to meet the “moral moment” with real change.

“This is a moral moment,” he said.

“Will we become a more loving and compassionate society, not with our rhetoric, but with our laws and our rules and how to treat the most vulnerable?”

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement who is now the special projects director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, echoed that sentiment in an interview with “Meet the Press” Sunday.

“Seven years ago, people thought that ‘Black Lives Matter’ was a radical idea. And yet, ‘Black Lives Matter’ is now a household name, and it’s something being discussed across kitchen tables all over the world,” she said.

“Why can’t we start to look at how it is that we reorganize our priorities so people don’t have to be in the streets protesting during a national pandemic, and a global pandemic. It’s time for us to address the pandemic in our communities, and that pandemic is not having the resources we need to live well. And that’s not just a black problem, that’s everybody’s problem.”

The death of George Floyd — the Minnesota man whose death in police custody has resulted in charges against four officers, including a second-degree murder charge for the officer who held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes — has prompted widespread protests across the country.

One idea proposed by some prominent activists is slashing police budgets, a policy shorthanded as “Defund the Police.” Days after Washington D.C. Muriel Bowser had “Black Lives Matter” Painted on the street leading up to the White House, protesters painted “Defund the Police” nearby.

Garza explained the call as one to “invest in the resources our communities need.”

“What we do need is increased funding for housing, increased funding for education, increased funding for quality of life of communities that are over-policed and over-surveilled,” she said.

While Booker told NBC that he wouldn’t use the exact slogan, he said he understands the “the substance behind the slogan” and that “we are over-policed as a society.”

“We are investing in police — which is not solving problems, but making them worse,” he said.

“I know love is at the core of our ideals, but it needs to be made manifest in our policies. We would actually spend less money, we would elevate human dignity and human potential, and we would set a standard on the planet Earth for how we treat those who are vulnerable as opposed to what we're seeing right now.”