House Speaker John Boehner said if the accusations against the six Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray "are true, it's outrageous and it's unacceptable."
Boehner, in an interview with "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, was asked whether he thought the country was facing a crisis over the relationship between police and the black community, after a string of high-profile fatal encounters between black males and police officers.
"I do," the Ohio Republican responded. "I think that if you look at what's happened in the course of the last year, you just have to scratch your head."
"Public servants should not violate the law," Boehner said. "If these charges are true, it's outrageous and it's unacceptable."
National political leaders who appeared on Sunday talk shows agreed on the need to address criminal justice reform, an issue that came to a head over the past week in Baltimore, where protests — at times violent — erupted over the death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody. On Friday, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced murder and assault charges against six officers involved in Gray's arrest.
Earlier on "Fox News Sunday," Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) touted a new state advisory board to develop standards on the use of deadly force, in response to the fatal shooting in November by Cleveland police of a 12-year-old black boy who was holding a toy gun. And on ABC News' "This Week," Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said police body cameras could "lead us in the right direction." Last month, a police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder as a bystander recorded him shooting an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, in the back as he ran away.
Boehner said body cameras seem to be gaining favor among police departments nationwide. But he did not endorse the idea of additional federal funding to pay for them, as President Obama and other political leaders have proposed. The speaker said that there were "a lot of police grants already on the books" and that police departments can use them for whatever purpose they see fit.
Since August, when a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Mo., young people have taken to the streets to protest the use of deadly force against African Americans. With the exception of Obama and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), most national political figures were initially quiet. But increasingly, both Democrats and Republicans are speaking out, calling for a need to revisit criminal justice policies that have contributed to overly aggressive policing tactics and disproportionate incarceration rates for black men.
On Wednesday, Hillary Rodham Clinton in a speech at a public policy forum in New York, said, "There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.”
Kasich, who is exploring a bid for president, said Ohio's advisory panel has the broad support of both community leaders and police. "The whole goal is to fully integrate the police into the community," he said. "At the end of the day, everybody has the same goals. The community wants to be safe ... and the police want to give them that sense of safety."
Reps. Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats, also talked about the need for criminal justice reforms. The two, who are expected to face off for a Senate seat next year, appeared on different shows and called for more federal money to combat poverty in inner-city communities such as the one in which Gray lived.
Van Hollen, appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" said the GOP's budget proposals, including cuts to the child tax credit, "will make poverty worse in places like Baltimore."
Their GOP colleagues disagreed.
"Fifty years of liberal policies have not worked," Boehner said, arguing that more federal money has not helped failing inner-city schools.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who in the past few years has undertaken a listening tour in inner-city communities, called for "another run at welfare reform" to give states more flexibility to develop programs tailored to individual recipients' needs.