Politics

Marco Rubio Says Black Lives Matter Touches On A ‘Legitimate Issue’ He’s Not Willing To Address

CREDIT: AP Photo/Tina Fineberg

In this Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. smiles while speaking during an event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative in New York.

Last week, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio became one of the latest Republican presidential candidates to weigh in on the Black Lives Matter movement last week without proposing any actual policy solutions. In a Fox News interview, Rubio said racial disparities in policing and the criminal justice system are a “legitimate issue,” but not one that federal legislation could fix.

“It is a fact that in the African American community around this country, there has been for a number of years now a growing resentment towards the way law enforcement and the criminal justice system interacts with the community,” he said last Thursday. “We do need to face this. It’s a serious problem in this country. There are a lot of different reasons for it. Not all of them have governmental answers.”

Rubio went on to discuss a personal friend who has been stopped by police eight to nine times in the past 18 months, saying he would also be upset if the same thing happened to him.

“It has to be confronted but it may not necessarily have a federal bill that we can pass that can fix all this,” he continued. “This is a problem our nation has to confront because it is real.”

He also said he recognizes the Black Lives Matter movement’s grievances, but does not think they are asking for actual solutions. “I don’t think they have a detailed policy plan they want us to carry out. And I said, some of it doesn’t have governmental solutions.”

Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley have proposed detailed policy plans which would address the exact issues Black Lives Matter is concerned about, including the so-called War on Drugs and mandatory minimums and their effects on African Americans. Sanders’ plans includes a proposal to pass “ban the box” laws to prevent hiring discrimination against people with criminal records. O’Malley’s law enforcement reform plan includes more transparency between law enforcement and the community and measures to ensure fair sentencing.

While Hillary Clinton has not proposed a detailed policy plan, she told Black Lives Matter activists that we need to “change laws” and “change the way systems operate” to create more opportunities for people.

Not only has Rubio declined to put forward policy solutions to the criminal justice issues he discussed in the interview, but he has not supported legislation which would help address the issues raised by Black Lives Matter, which he says do not “have governmental answers.”

Rubio has signed on as co-sponsor to a number of more general criminal justice bills which would address prison recidivism and look at the cost-effectiveness of the system. But he has not spoken out against the War On Drugs or supported legislation to end mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes — one of the major causes of racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

The senator wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times last year after Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation in which he spoke out against the Justice Department not enforcing federal criminal law.

“Reform should not being with careless weakening of drug laws that have done so much to help end the violence and mayhem that plagues American cities in prior decades,” he wrote. The Daily Beast noted at the time that Rubio seemed to be making a “vague endorsement of the war on drugs” which could have “fatal consequences” for his presidential bid.

Many of his competitors have taken steps to reform sentencing laws and have said they support ending mandatory minimums. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the REDEEM Act multiple times alongside his Democratic colleague Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to reform the war on drugs. The legislation would eliminate the cost and the consequences of charging people with non-violent drug offenses.

When announcing the legislation, Paul and Booker emphasized the racial disparities in drug sentencing — 13 percent of the country is black but black Americans comprise 45 percent of inmates serving time for drug offenses. African Americans are more likely to be approached and killed at the hands of police.

Rubio says he understands the plight of Black Lives Matter movement, but he has not expressed support for the legislation.

A separate bill introduced in the Senate by Paul and two Democrats would effectively end the federal war on medical marijuana. The legislation would reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous substance and protect users from federal prosecution.

Rubio has not signed on to that bill and has gone so far as saying he would use federal law to crack down on marijuana use across the country.