Former presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and former Attorney General Eric Holder addressed Georgetown University students on June 10 in a virtual event hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service. The event, titled “A Conversation on Justice in America,” was co-sponsored by the Center for Social Justice and focused on systemic racism, police brutality, and voting rights in the midst of nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
During the hour-long Zoom webinar moderated by GU Politics Executive Director Mo Elleithee, Holder emphasized the urgency of passing comprehensive policing and criminal justice reform legislation. “Federal governments as well as state and local governments have to… come up with concrete, real solutions for the problems we have been dealing with for far too long,” Holder said. “Just because we’ve done it this way forever doesn’t mean we’re going to continue to do it this way in the future.”
Holder cited many of the reforms he implemented while in office to limit abuse of power by police. During both his and Loretta Lynch’s tenures as Attorney General under President Obama, the Department of Justice carried out 14 consent decrees to bring federal oversight to municipal police departments accused of systematic misconduct. No consent decrees have been implemented under the Trump administration. Holder also issued guidance to eradicate or reduce mandatory minimum sentencing rules in an effort to curb the US’s prison population.
Both Holder and Klobuchar focused on the importance of addressing systemic racism in not only policing and the criminal justice system, but also in areas such as housing, health care, and education. Disparate rates of COVID-19 infection and death between white people and people of color were a key part of the conversation.
“While that videotape shed light on the racism and the murder, we have it going on in so many aspects of our country,” Klobuchar said. “You want to talk about institutional racism? People of color are dying at double the rates of their population because they’re on the front-line working, a lot of them aren’t getting the wages they should. The disparities that we saw before, the pandemic has put one big magnifying glass on it.”
Klobuchar, who previously served as Hennepin County Attorney between 1998 and her election to the U.S. Senate in 2006, faced criticism for routinely declining to prosecute Minneapolis police officers involved in cases of excessive force against Black men. This includes a previous fatal encounter involving Derek Chauvin, the former-officer who is charged with second-degree murder for Floyd’s death.
In response to questions about her past as a prosecutor, Klobuchar defended her record, citing that she had already assumed office as a senator when the case involving Derek Chauvin was presented to a grand jury.
As Hennepin County Attorney, she ran on “tough on crime” policies, seeking harsh penalties for many non-violent offenses such as vandalism. In her remarks, Klobuchar claimed that she had worked to lower Black incarceration rates as well as diversify the attorney’s office and implement policing reforms during her tenure.
“I valiantly tried to stop one of the Minneapolis police chiefs from taking these investigations [of police-involved deaths] in house, I publicly took this on,” Klobuchar said. “He took them in house, which I thought was wrong.”
The first of a GU Politics series on race and policing in America, the webinar concluded with a call from both Holder and Klobuchar for Georgetown students to take part in activism and be involved in bringing about political change.
“Ask yourself: what am I doing? What can I do?” Holder said. “I’m actually cautiously optimistic about where we are as a nation—with the involvement of young people like you—that we can finally, finally live up to our founding ideals.”