COLUMBIA, SC — Speaking to a bipartisan group of black lawmakers and community leaders on Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said he has yet to see evidence that black men and women are being disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.
During the 2020 Club’s Presidential Justice Forum at Allen University, a historically black university in Columbia, South Carolina, Carson said that he’s not convinced that there are racial biases in policing or that law enforcement singles out African Americans.
“I’m not aware of a lot of cases where a police officer comes up to someone like you and says ‘Hey, I don’t like you. I’m going to shoot you,’” he said to moderator Jeff Johnson from Black Entertainment Television. “I’m still waiting for the evidence.”
Johnson quickly responded: “I’ll show you the Tamir Rice tape,” to loud applause from the black audience.
Rice’s death is just one recent example of systematic biases within police departments. Studies conducted in labs show that police are considerably slower to press the “don’t shoot” button for an unarmed black man than they are for an unarmed white man. They are also faster to shoot an armed black man than an armed white man. And recent evidence shows that police in departments across the country are more likely to stop and approach black members of the community.
When presented with evidence of these biases, Carson appeared to change his tone, telling ThinkProgress that police who kill unarmed black men should be swiftly brought to justice. But he could not name any policies he’d promote as president to change the systematic violence inflicted by police against black people.
“Whenever something like that happens, there must be swift justice,” he said when asked what he’d do about the fact that more than 30 unarmed black men and women have been killed by police this year. “If there is a situation where you have a rogue policeman who does something like that, that needs to be publicized and they need to be punished to the severest extent of the law.”
When pressed by a reporter about what policies he’d push to prevent the recurrence of police violence, whether it’s body cameras or improved police training, he refused to name concrete proposals.
“One policy that I would encourage is whenever an instance like this happens, the very fact that I’ve only heard about one of them but there’s a whole bunch of them you’re saying, that’s wrong,” he said. “We should all know about this and they should be made into a big deal, not only for the community but for the police department.”
“When you are given the authority and you are given a gun, that carries a tremendous responsibility and anybody who abuses that should be the dredge of the earth,” he continued.
Activists with Black Lives Matter have been attempting to make victims of police shootings become well-known names. But Carson has disparaged the group, calling it “silly” and “sickening.” When asked about the movement during Saturday’s Q&A, he said activists should really be focusing on the black lives that are lost at abortion clinics.