Not all white women talked about as prospective Biden running mates are created equal in the eyes of black voters. Some have more standing than others. For instance, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has it. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) absolutely does not.
Warren, who suspended her quest for the Democratic nomination in March, made a point of going after the African American vote. My Aunt Gloria wants Biden to choose Warren. The Massachusetts senator had a “working agenda for black America” that covered 19 areas. Last year, she was the standout favorite among the 1,000 women of color who heard her speak at the She the People presidential forum in Houston. And Warren has a very powerful advocate in “squad” member Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts.
In November, Warren spoke to Clark Atlanta University, the historically black institution in Georgia. “I’m here to make a commitment: When I am president of the United States, the lessons of black history will not be lost,” Warren said. Six months later, Warren’s words are even heavier with meaning.
We are now a nation reeling from a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting African Americans. We are also a nation where videos from Brunswick, Ga., New York City and Minneapolis show in vivid and horrifying color the racism and brutality that blacks have faced since, well, 1619. And the situation in Minneapolis only serves to highlight why Klobuchar as Biden’s running mate would be a bitter pill for black voters to swallow.
George Floyd, suspected of forgery at a local food mart, was detained by police on a Minneapolis street Monday. His final moments of life were spent face down with a police officer’s knee pressing down on his neck. Police ignored his pleas and the shouts of concerned bystanders as they watched Floyd die. Thankfully, four police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired and the Justice Department is investigating.
“Being Black in America should not be a death sentence. For five minutes, we watched a white officer press his knee into a Black man’s neck. Five minutes,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) wrote in an emotional Facebook post. “To our Black community, to the family: I’m so sorry.”
“We heard his repeated calls for help. We heard him say over and over again that he could not breathe. And now we have seen yet another horrifying and gut-wrenching instance of an African American man dying,” Klobuchar said in a statement. She signed onto a letter with other Minnesota lawmakers calling on the U.S. attorney and the Hennepin County attorney to conduct a “thorough investigation into the events that led to this tragedy.” Nice words. But there is a reason many African Americans explicitly name Klobuchar as an unacceptable choice for Biden’s running mate. She was Hennepin County attorney from 1999 until she went to the U.S. Senate in 2007. And what is happening in Minneapolis will bring renewed attention to her troubling aspects of her tenure.
The Post headline on a March 2019 story examining her record was succinct: “As a prosecutor in heavily white Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar declined to go after police involved in fatal encounters with black men.” The report noted that after narrowly winning her election, Klobuchar went about fulfilling campaign promises to ramp up felony and juvenile prosecutions. The focus of the story was the 2002 death of Christopher Burns. Police arrived at his home in response to a domestic violence call.
“The officers put him in a chokehold, and he died on the scene,” The Post reported. Burns was the third black person killed by the Minneapolis police department that year, and his death led to protests. One sentence in particular in that Post story no longer seems innocuous given what happened to Floyd. “Under Klobuchar,” The Post reported, “local prosecutors were assigned to police precincts to crack down on smaller offenses such as check forgery."
The Post story came more than a month after the Associated Press reexamined Klobuchar’s “flawed” prosecution of Myon Burrell in 2002 in the death of an 11-year-old girl by a stray bullet. Burrell, who maintains his innocence, was 16 years old when he was arrested and indicted. Klobuchar has since called for an independent investigation into the case.
Now that Klobuchar is seriously being considered by Biden as a vice presidential running mate, she must publicly address the Burrell and Burns cases. More importantly, Klobuchar must connect her stated quest for justice for Floyd to the larger issue of the disparate treatment of African Americans by law enforcement.
“Every single person in every single community in this country deserves to feel safe,” Klobuchar wrote in her statement about Floyd’s killing. While her overall sentiment is right and true, it also totally ignores the more complicated reality African Americans face daily. That Klobuchar fails to even mention that Floyd was killed by police exemplifies the problem she has with African Americans, why they don’t trust her and why they don’t want Biden to put her on the ticket.