This was a Zoom gathering, and I was one of about 1500 participants. Senator Booker began by announcing that “the press” was not welcome. I was surprised. There’s no way a meeting that size could be “closed”, so I assume he was simply making it clear that he didn’t want to be quoted.
Questions were accepted both in advance of and during the meeting, but all were in writing and the moderator (his Deputy Campaign Manager) screened and read all questions. No one had an opportunity to throw either a softball or a curveball. I think the term is “on background”. Surely the press was listening, but they were not allowed any part in the event. OK with me.
A video of the event was later made available on line. I don’t think anything surprising or controversial was said. Booker has been in the public eye for a long time. He is suitably cautious.
Booker was born in 1969, after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. While admiring that advances of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, he said it had “accepted a negative peace”. The (then common) assumption was that integration and the Civil Rights Act would greatly advance the interests and quality of life for African Americans.
Booker believes racism (as presently experienced) is systemic as well as personal.
Booker talked about America as two nations, with unequal access to healthcare, justice, and a clean environment (as evidenced by rates of asthma, lead poisoning, etc.) He challenged the idea that the documented differences are really economic. Even controlling for income, health differentials confirm that the system is biased against non-Whites.
Booker says we are experiencing a time of opportunity. He encourages continued demonstrations. (He didn’t address preventing instigators from causing or exacerbating violence.) His sees his role as legislative and discussed the new legislation he (with other Senators) has written. One Republican Senator has expressed crossover support. Booker is uncertain if others can be recruited. The legislation calls for “substantive accountability” as follows:
- ban on chokeholds and other lethal actions
- data transparency and a national database about police infractions and penalties (so violent officers can’t just move to a new department) and
- limits on police immunity, changing the standard from willfulness to recklessness.
Booker emphasized that it’s not the job of law enforcement to solve problems. That responsibility rests on government. Law enforcement does what government prescribes.
The next topic was incarceration. He describes our prisons as being full of addicts and non-violent offenders, many of whom are desperate for health care, especially mental health services. He says that there ARE solutions, it is a matter of how much we the American people are willing to struggle. Booker wants to end “mass” incarceration in this generation. It’s a big goal.
During the Q/A, topics included police in schools, systemic issues like the food and clothing industries, and voter suppression.
Asked how to keep protest going, he asked allies to stay engaged, to use every possible platform, to be creative and aggressive, and to be increasingly well informed. He advised reading The New Jim Crow and Just Mercy.
Considering he had been my Senator for about seven years, I’m a little late trying to get acquainted with Cory Booker. This was a reasonable, not particularly surprising, introduction. I’m optimistic about his leadership and concerned about the pitfalls and challenges of being a Senator at this time.