During Monday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland was asked about systemic racism. Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey asked Garland about his views regarding mass incarceration and inherent bias in the criminal justice system.
Booker began by describing the “Micah Mandate,” which he explained as “do justice, love mercy…and walk humbly.” He quoted an activist-theologian he has read, who says, “What does love look like in public? It looks like justice.”
Booker continued, telling Garland, “You have, to me, one of the most important positions on planet earth for trying to create a more just society…I want to talk to you about white supremacist violence…but before I get there, I am actually concerned with something that I consider pernicious and very difficult to root out, which is the realities of implicit racial bias that lead to larger systemic racism.”
Booker then asked Garland directly, “Does our justice system treat people equally in this country at this point?”
Garland responded, “Sadly, and — it is plain to me it does not.”
He continued, “There is no question that there is disparate treatment in our justice system. Mass incarceration is a very good example of this problem. We are incarcerating 25 — almost 25% of the world’s population and we have something like 5% of the world’s population. I don’t think that is because Americans are worse. What belies that is the disparate treatment of blacks and communities of color.”
Booker went on to discuss marijuana arrests in the country, saying that the likelihood of an African-American “being arrested for doing things that two of the last four presidents admitted to doing is three to four times higher than somebody white.”
Booker asked, “Is that evidence that within the system there is implicit racial bias? Yes or no?”
Garland said that it was “definitely evidence of disparate treatment,” saying that this treatment arises out of implicit bias. Garland made the point to say that this might be unconscious bias or conscious bias.
Booker clarified later, saying that the disparate treatment of people of color “does not mean that the people who are engaged in this are racist…it means that they have an implicit racist bias that leads them to make different decisions about people.”
Booker later asked, “My question to you now is, assuming this position where you were called upon for that ‘Micah Mandate,’ what are you going to do about this outrageous injustice that persists and infects our society with such a toll on black and brown communities?”
Garland said, “there are many things that the justice department has to do in this regard. I completely agree that disparate results with respect to wealth accumulation, discrimination in employment, discrimination in housing, discrimination in healthcare availability, all of which we all see now in the consequences of a pandemic which affects communities of color enormously more.”
“One set of things we can do is the mass incarceration example,” he continued. “We can focus our attention on violent crimes and other crimes that put great danger in our society and not allocate our resources to something like marijuana possession. We can look at our charging policies and stop charging the highest possible offense with the highest possible sentence.”
Booker closed by asking Garland about his personal story and how that has affected his aspirations.
Garland became emotional, describing his grandparents’ history of fleeing anti-semitism and persecution. He said that the United States “took us in — and protected us. And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back. This is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back. And so I want very much to be the kind of Attorney General that you’re saying I could become. I’ll do my best to try to be that kind of Attorney General.”
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