After a week in which the Trump campaign made seemingly contradictory public statements referencing racism in policing, profiling, racial unrest and the systemic bias faced by black Americans, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Trump surrogate, began this week calling for great care in discussing police shootings and discrimination.
"Everyone should be very careful," Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "It is imperative that everyone supports the thin blue line. It is what separates us ... from anarchy."
On Sunday, she also joined Trump in describing New York police's former "stop-and frisk" policy as an effective crime-prevention tool that should be implemented broadly.
When CNN host Jake Tapper attempted to bring the conversation back to race and policing, Blackburn challenged the idea that institutional racism exists. According to the show transcript:
TAPPER: … talk about the institutional racism.
BLACKBURN: No, no, no. It’s — you don't — you cannot say that all cops are bad. But there are issues…
BLACKBURN: … that cops need to address, absolutely. But to say they are all bad or that there's an institutional racism...
Eventually, CNN political commentator and former Obama administration official Van Jones interjected, leading to a noteworthy exchange among Blackburn, Jones and another commentator, Angela Rye. Again, from the show's transcript:
JONES: First of all — I’m going to say something. I'm from a law enforcement family. ... What African-Americans want is effective and fair policing. And that's all.
And so — but it's very important to point out here a couple of things. When someone says there's institutional racism they are not saying every single police officer hates black people or every — what they are saying is something is happening where there's a bias, where an African-American kid wearing a hoodie seems to be a threat. A white kid wearing a hoodie might be seen as maybe a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and there's an unfairness there. And you got to look at it.
The big danger that I see is when you start talking about data, when you start talking about trends and then somebody says, well, you just hate all cops, that shuts down the discussion as well and that's not effective.
BLACKBURN: That was my original point. Everyone needs to be very careful about how they discuss this. You need to go back and look at things that have worked. You need to look at what —
JONES: Well, stop-and-frisk did not work.
BLACKBURN: Well, you need to look what [then-Gov. Rudy] Giuliani did in New York. And then you need to see what happens — we got 500 in Chicago that have been murdered.
JONES: And we should talk about that as well. I just want to say that the stop-and-frisk needs to end.
Every study showed that you had a fraction of people that had any guns. Burglaries did not go down. Robberies did not go down as a result of that. And cities that did not implement stop-and-frisk had a steeper decline in violence. So this whole methodology that terrorizing and alienating a whole generation of African-Americans was somehow good for African-Americans has got to stop.
BLACKBURN: I know. You have to be sure that what you're doing is looking at things that have worked, making certain that there is training on threat assessment and then making certain law enforcement who are on the front lines every day and deserve our respect.
They put their life on the line.
TAPPER: Angela, go ahead.
BLACKBURN: They got the tools they need.
RYE: With all due respect. To continue to frame this as a threat-assessment conversation is also part of the problem because what we're saying is very simple and that is when you deem a person by nature of who they are and what they look like and the race of that person as a threat, that, in fact, is the problem.
A federal court banned stop-and-frisk in New York in 2013 because the judge behind the order described the tactic as an unconstitutional “policy of indirect racial profiling” where vast majorities of those stopped were both people of color and people who had done nothing wrong. Among the most common reasons police cited for stopping individuals: "furtive movements," and "suspicious bulges," in their pants or other clothing.
In 2011, when stop-and-frisk activity reached an all-time high in New York, police stopped 685,724 people, according to data analyzed by the American Civil Liberties Union. A full 53 percent were black, 34 percent were Latino and 9 percent were white. More than half were ages 14 to 24, and 88 percent were neither arrested nor received any sort of citation.
Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Chief Ray Kelly claimed that stop-and-frisk had reduced crime in New York and other communities. Bloomberg argued that ending the policy would lead to an increase in homicides and fought the federal court order. Those who challenged the program in court said it did far more to poison police-community relationships than prevent crime and violated the rights of people of color. New York's current mayor, Bill de Blasio, ended stop-and-frisk permanently.
Bloomberg has since voiced strong opposition to the Trump campaign. Blackburn has said she would have been honored if asked to join the Trump ticket.
Blackburn, who represents a Tennessee district that includes heavily Republican suburbs, small towns and rural communities, is a longtime advocate for hard-line immigration policies, including local police involvement in immigration enforcement — a practice that immigrant advocates insist leads to racial and ethnic profiling. National law enforcement organizations also have described local police involvement in immigration enforcement as counterproductive, breeding distrust between police and immigrants who have witnessed crimes.