Lankford Urges Colleagues to Set Aside Partisanship and Pass the JUSTICE Act
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today took to the Senate floor to encourage his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to end the divisive rhetoric and come together to actually work on legislation that would address specific areas of law enforcement by considering the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act, which Lankford introduced this morning along with Tim Scott (R-SC), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Ben Sasse (R-NE). Lankford’s speech works to combat the false narrative that Republicans are inherently racist and are somehow incapable of addressing law enforcement reform or racial reconciliation and its underlying issues in our nation.
The Senate plans to take up the JUSTICE Act beginning next week, and in his speech, Lankford encouraged his Democratic colleagues to bring their ideas to the table and participate in making the final product the best it can be for our nation.
I’d first like to associate myself 100 percent with everything Senator Scott just said. Somehow I’m supposed to speak after he just said it. The frustration that I’ve had over the past couple of days as we’ve worked very hard on pulling legislation together; we’ve talked to people all over. I’ve talked to people all over Oklahoma of all backgrounds, talked to members of the community, I’ve talked to law enforcement, talked to leadership in law enforcement. We’ve worked to be able to build a coalition of ideas, things that would pass. Answering the question that Tim Scott started with, could we pull together a piece of legislation that would actually help? Not to just pass something so we can walk away, pat each other on the back and say, we passed something, knowing quietly it isn’t really going to make a difference.
Is there something we could do that would actually make a difference?
Over the weeks we have worked to be able to identify what could pass, what could make a difference, what answers the question that everyone is asking. We actually didn’t look at whether it was Republican or Democrat idea. We just asked the question, what would make the difference? Because I don’t believe equal justice under the law is owned by a party. But it’s been fascinating to me the questions that I’ve had over the past couple of days, as members of the media would quietly pull me aside and would say, ‘Hey, are Republicans going to be able to pass a bill on race?’ Because quietly they’re asking the question, ‘You know, all those republicans are racists. Are you going to be able to pull something off?’ That’s really what they’re saying in the background.
Over and over again, I’ve just heard it in the media and seen it out there, ‘You know, those republicans are all racists. I don’t think they’ll be able to pass anything dealing with race.’ As this dividing message continues to go out, we’ve done our work. Because we also believe in equal justice under the law. And as a friend of mine said to me a couple of weeks ago, we also believe that we should continue to work towards a more perfect union.
See, for me it’s not only a practical issue. It’s not only a family issue. It’s not only a friendship issue. It’s not only a basic-freedom-and-liberty-for-every-individual issue. It’s not just a constitutional issue. For me it’s also a biblical issue. You can go back as many pages as you want to in scripture and work your way from beginning to the end, and you’re going to find some very consistent themes. From the book of Deuteronomy, this statement about how God’s affection is for equal weights and measures. And his first challenge to government, when the Jews are establishing their first government, God is speaking to them and saying, ‘Make sure there’s equal weights and measures.’ It was a simple way of saying, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re a foreigner, whether you’re a member, whether you’re in or out, everyone is to be treated the same. Equal weights, equal measures.
Find that passage over and over and over again through the Old Testament. Read it all the way to the Book of the Revelation at the end. In the Book of the Revelation at the end, there is this gathering around the throne that’s pictured at the very end of the gathering of the kingdom of God. And as they gather around the throne, it’s described as every tribe, every nation, every language, every people all gathered. See, for me, this is a biblical issue. As well as being a personal issue. But for us as a nation, it’s a legal issue. And it’s where we find inconsistencies of the law we are to correct it. And do what we can to be able to make it right.
This bill is designed with a simple statement in mind: how can we provide accountability, transparency, and training in law enforcement, so that the good cops shine and those that are bad apples in the mix, the light shines on them? That’s all we’re asking. And we want to see things change. People in my towns across my state want to see things change and want to know that this is not just a vote that’s a partisan vote. That it’s a vote to actually get something solved.
It wasn’t that long ago that this body was gathering and voted unanimously on an almost $3 trillion bill dealing with a major problem in America: COVID-19. Why don’t we get together again, hash out the issues, and unanimously come to some decisions again on a major problem in America: injustice. Now, we can’t pass something that bans racism. I wish we could. We would have all taken that vote. But we can’t ban racism. That’s passed on through families and through individuals.
Children aren’t born racist. They’re raised racist. Families have to make a decision of what they’re going to do in their family. The national conversation about race doesn’t happen in this room. The national conversation on race happens in kitchens and dining rooms. But we can do things about justice, simple things that we’ve been able to try to gather—a set of ideas that again aren’t partisan—ideas and solutions. They’ve come from all over the place, some Democrats, some Republicans. And we’ve pulled these things together and we’re asking a simple question: will our democratic members take a vote with us next week to move to this bill, to amend it, debate it, talk about it, have a real dialogue, and then pass something that we think will work?
Will it look exactly like this? It will probably look a lot like this because there are aspects that look almost identical to this in the Democrat House bill right now. Will there be additional ideas? Probably. Why don’t we debate it and talk about it. Why don’t we vote to open it up and discuss it, and why don’t we actually try to solve it.
There are things like if there’s bodily injury or death in police custody, that all that information has got to come into the FBI. So we can disseminate and try to get transparency around the country. About 40 percent of the departments already report that but a lot of them do not. There are a lot of places that do no-knock warrants. We really don’t have information about that. We know they’re happening all over the country and there’s some conversation about maybe we should keep some of it and what would that look like. But we have no way to track that. Why don’t we get information in on no-knock warrants? So we can make a decision that’s an informed decision and then act on it.
Why don’t we deal with some basic problems that are out there that we’ve seen several times in some of the worst moments? It’s one opinion against another opinion. Why don’t we get more body cameras on the streets and why don’t we make sure those body cameras are actually turned on all the time. There’s new technology in body cameras that actually automatically turn on when there’s a call, so law enforcement doesn’t have to worry about I forgot to turn it on. It turns itself on. Why don’t we incentivize that and to encourage the new body cameras with automatic features to be able to turn it on so we’ve always got footage.
Why don’t we hold people to account if there is a false police report that’s filed because in several cases of late when the incident was over, a written police report was filed and then later cell cam video came out that was completely different than the original police report. Well, that’s a false report. Why don’t we hold the bad apple to account. Why don’t we end choke holds. Most departments already have. Why don’t we just end it nationwide. Why don’t we say to departments, if you want to get a federal grant for any law enforcement purpose, you can’t get that or you get a reduced amount or you get a big deduction unless your department has already banned choke holds. To basically lay the marker out there and say we expect you to take action on this. Why don’t we deal with the issues that are before us that people are asking questions about and where we lack information, let’s go get it.
You see, it was several years ago that Senator Peters on the Democrat side and Senator Cornyn on the Republican side put out a proposal to be able to do a commission to be able to study this, these issues and a bunch more, to be able to gather, make recommendations and let’s start passing these things on a unified basis. It passed the Senate unanimously and died in the house. Let’s bring that back up. We were trying to do some work here in the Senate to be able to head some of this off. Let’s do that again. And let’s see what we can actually do.
Where we find departments that they’re recruiting and their department does not match the ethnicity of their community, why don’t we provide grants for that community and that police department to be able to have a black recruiter to recruit more black officers and then to be able to help them through the earliest days of the police academy financially to make sure that that department matches that community, because one of the great gains of the last 30 years has been community policing, allowing officers to be able to get out of their car, meet the community, to be able to engage so the communities together are policing. Why don’t we do that?
I did a ride-along with an officer several years ago, and I’ll never forget as we’re riding through his community in his neighborhood where he always patrolled. As we drove through there was an elderly lady as sweet as she could be sitting on her front porch, and as we drove by I said, ‘Does she sit out there every day?’ And he laughed, and he said, ‘Yes, she sits out there every day.’ I said, ‘Have you ever stopped to meet her?’ And he hesitated for a long time, and he said, ‘No, I never have.’
Community policing does make a difference when you get a chance to meet the people in the community, get to know them and you share the responsibility forever. We’re actually working together to be able to solve the problems that we face. We’re laying down a set of ideas that we feel will make a difference, not just make a message. Other people have other ideas, bring them. Let’s open it up. Let’s not have heated debate. Let’s have debate that solves a problem, and so at the end of this we know what we’re solving and we solve it, and then we keep going.