A conversation between a Republican lawmaker and the leader of a civil rights group at Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Hearing on policing reform showcased a common and persistent misunderstanding about implicit bias and how it impacts American society. It also provided a public illustration of why some, particularly some white Americans and conservatives, have a hard time accepting the existence of systemic racism in the United States, and thus, acknowledging how that affects the justice system.Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) spent a significant part of his time asking the witness panel to share their thoughts on the prevalence of racism. After asking whether the panel believed there is systemic racism, and asking if it was poverty broadly rather than race that put certain Americans at a disadvantage, Cornyn zeroed in on a response by Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who said, “I don’t think there’s an institution in this country that isn’t suffering from structural racism, given our history.”Cornyn took some umbrage at Gupta’s response, and the exchange that followed gets to the crux of why it’s still hard to get on the same page about how to resolve these issues.Cornyn: You changed the phrase from systemic to structural racism. What does that mean? That means everything? Every institution? Every person in America is a racist?Gupta: It means that there is bias built into existing institutions. There have been any number of courageous police who have spoken about systemic racism in history as well.Cornyn: You think systemic or structural racism can exist in a system that requires individual responsibility. Or do you think it is one or the other?Gupta: I think every American institution has been shaped by these forces and our goal is to do what we can as policymakers, as advocates to take that out and try to fight it in the modern-day iterations that it appears.Cornyn: Do you agree basically that all Americans are racists?Gupta: I think we all have implicitly bias and racial biases. Yes, I do.Corny. Wow.Gupta. I think we are an amazing country that strives to be better every day. That’s why I went into government, to make a more perfect union.Cornyn: You lost me when you want to take the acts of a few misguided, perhaps malicious individuals and subscribe that to all Americans, not just our 800,000 police officers, our 18,000 police departments. Thank you for your answer.
You can watch the interaction below:
Cruz also renounced the idea of systemic racism in policing during Tuesday's hearing.
“I think some of the rhetoric that has been used in the wake of Mr. Floyd's killing has been inaccurate and harmful,” Cruz said, continuing to focus on Democrats. “A great many of our colleagues, use the phrase 'systemic racism' to suggest that the entire criminal justice system is imbued with racism. I don't believe that's accurate.”
He continued it was wrong “to impugn the integrity of everyone working in law enforcement is a disservice to this nation.”
Cruz slammed the notion to “defund the police” and, citing an academic study, said if other members “agreed that Black lives matter, demonizing the police and causing them to pull back from protecting people's lives will predictably cause more black lives to be taken.”
“So, I urge that we proceed with caution, with a commitment to justice, and a commitment to truth,” he concluded.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has faced a barrage of criticism from Texas and national Democrats in recent days for his comments and questions about racism made during a hearing over how to overhaul the country's criminal justice system in the wake of Minneapolis resident George Floyd's death at the hands of police.
Cornyn, a Republican who is up for reelection in the fall, seemed to question in the hearing whether isolated acts of police misconduct ought to be characterized as signs of systemic racism within all police departments and among police officers. The two Democrats who are locked in a battle for their party's nomination released highly critical statements on the state's senior senator, saying Cornyn didn't understand the idea of broader systemic issues in policing and other public institutions harming black people.
“There are a lot of differences between John Cornyn and myself,” said state Sen. Royce West of Dallas. “One is that I know systemic racism exists and that it hurts black and brown people disproportionately.”
“If Senator Cornyn can’t even grasp the concept of systemic racism, there’s a 0% chance he’s equipped to legislate solutions to address racial injustice in America,” said Air Force veteran M.J. Hegar.
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