We speak with Democratic Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez about why he will not be attending the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump and instead plans to go to the Women’s March on Washington the following day. “We need to come together because when women are attacked, we all are attacked,” Gutiérrez says. “When women win, we all win.” He is a member of the Judiciary Committee and is the co-chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congressman Gutiérrez, I’d like to ask you about another issue that came up in the hearings, which is the issue of consent decrees that the Justice Department has reached with a variety of cities that are dealing with constitutional violations by their police departments. During Jeff Sessions’ hearing, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas questioned Sessions about the role of law enforcement in communities.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: We need to be sure that when we criticize law officers, it is narrowly focused on the right basis for criticism. And to smear whole departments places those officers at greater risk. And we are seeing an increase in murder of police officers. It was up 10 percent last year. So, I just could say, I could feel — I could feel in my bones how it was going to play out in the real world when we had what I thought oftentimes was legitimate criticism of a, perhaps, wrongdoing by an officer, but spilling over to a condemnation of our entire police force. And morale has been affected. And it’s impacted the crime rates in Baltimore and crime rates in Chicago. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. I regret that’s happening. I think it can be restored. But we need to understand the requirement that the police work with the community and be respectful of their community, but we, as a nation, need to respect our law officers, too.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Senator Jeff Sessions.
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Sure.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: He was told that there are about 20 cities right now that have consent decrees as a result of widespread abuses by their police department. That includes New York and Newark.
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: And Puerto Rico.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Baltimore is about to sign another one in the next few days. Your concern about this issue of police abuse and the consent decrees that Sessions indicated that he would be disposed to revisiting whether some of them should be ended?
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Look, I’m from Chicago. Everybody has seen the tape of a young black 17-year-old man, young man, Laquan McDonald, shot 15 times in 16 seconds. And because our community demands the intervention of the federal government so that people are not abused, so that people are not murdered — look, Juan, the fact is, that happened. And six other Chicago police officers said and filled out forms saying the officer’s life was under threat. That man is being charged. That officer is being charged for murder in Cook County. Chicago voters took actions against the attorney general. Chicago voters took actions against the superintendent of police. Chicago voters are going to continue to take action, not only in Chicago, but across this country, to protect the lives. Juan, you and I both know, even in Puerto Rico they’re under a consent decree, because the police are there to carry out political orders of those in power.
So, the police’ job is to serve and protect the public. And where they do not do that, it is incumbent upon the federal government to intervene when local governments will not. And so, I think it’s an important matter and one that we should be very, very fearful of. The greatest tool, Juan, that the police have in protecting you and me and the American citizens — their greatest tool is the trust and the confidence of the American people. It isn’t the badge. It isn’t the gun. It isn’t the sophisticated car and equipment that they have. It is the reliability of the support of the people. And the only way you’re going to get that is when there is trust and confidence and respect between the people and the Chicago police and police departments across this nation.
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Juan, may I say something?
AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Barber, you’re trying to jump in there?
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: Yeah, because I think it’s important for us to unpack how Sessions is trying to talk about racism in a way that is, to be quite honest, dangerous in a democracy. Let me step back for a second, for instance, on the case against Ms. Turner and her husband. You know, one of the things I’ve shared with President Brooks, and I hope he’ll do today, is that when you testify, have her there or have somebody from her family there. Put a face on this extremism. Same thing about police brutality and criminal justice reform: Have some of those mothers there that have lost their sons. And then, in that context, say to him, “This is not just about individual, rogue cops. That is to dismiss systemic racism and systemic problems, that have been proven whenever the Justice Department has gone in and done a clear analysis of police departments, like in Ferguson, for instance. They found a systemic problem.” But what Sessions is trying to do and what oftentimes folk like him attempt to do, because they really do not want to deal with systemic racism, is suggest it’s just an individual, that it’s not a systems problem. Now, on other matters, it’s a systems problem. When it comes to healthcare, for instance, they say, “We have a bad system. You know, Obamacare is a bad system.” Or our taxes is a bad system. But when it comes to racism, they say, “Oh, that’s just one bad apple. It does not represent systemic racism.”
And the reality is, when we have unarmed African-American men, women, boys and girls — unarmed — being shot over and over again and killed over and over again; when we have more people in our prison system today, African Americans, than we had enslaved in slavery, by some estimates; when you represent only 12 percent of the population but more than 50 percent of the incarceration; when it’s proven that African Americans do less drugs, for instance, than others, but are incarcerated at rates much higher, as one of my friends said, this is a new Jim Crow. Ms. Alexander says this is a new Jim Crow. It’s a systems problem. And he doesn’t want to deal with the system, because if you deal with the system of racism in incarceration, then you have to deal with the system of racism in voting rights and the system of racism in deinvestment in communities that are black, brown and poor, and even white poor communities. He doesn’t want to deal with the system. But the U.S. attorney general, that’s the attorney general’s job, to examine systems and how those systems and individuals running those systems comply with the laws of this land. He’s the wrong person —
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to —
REV. WILLIAM BARBER: — for the wrong [inaudible] this time.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the issue of women and assault for a minute, before we go to break, and then we’ll get your reaction to President Obama’s farewell address in your city, Luis Gutiérrez, in Chicago. Last October, after the release of the 2005 tape of Donald Trump saying that, as a celebrity, he can, quote, “grab women by the pussy,” unquote, Jeff Sessions was asked if such behavior constituted sexual assault. At the time, Senator Sessions responded, quote, “I don’t characterize that as a sexual assault. I think that’s a stretch,” unquote. Well, at Tuesday’s hearing for Senator Sessions to be U.S. attorney general, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy asked Sessions the same question again.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Is grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent — is that sexual assault?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: Clearly, it would be.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, your response in this change of heart of Senator Sessions?
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: I wish it was a change of heart. Look, one of the primary reasons is, that I will not go to this inauguration — and let’s — I want to be clear: I went to George Bush’s inauguration, I’ve been here for 25 years, this is my 25th year in Congress, so I’ve been to quite a few, Republican and Democrat, inaugurations — was exactly that statement. I cannot unhear it. My mind doesn’t work so that I can eliminate those expressions of the president-elect, Donald Trump. And what did he say? They tried to normalize it during the campaign by saying that it was simply the talk of people in a gym. Right? Well, it’s not. And if anyone were to say that in a locker room — and I go to — I’ve been to a locker room here in Congress, right here in the Rayburn Building; thousands of days I spent in that locker room over the last 24 years. And I’ll tell you, I’ve never heard such an expression. And if I did hear such an expression, it would not go unchallenged by me. And I don’t believe that it is normal. It is abnormal for me to hear those kinds of expressions. And for me to have to stand by and normalize those kinds of expressions at an inauguration is something I cannot do that. I cannot look at my wife and my daughters and my grandson in the face if I were to stand at that inauguration.
So, instead, Amy, I think we should take a positive action, and so I’m coming on Inauguration Day, not to the inauguration, but to get ready, to see what kind of clothing I’m going to need, what kind of preparations I’m going to need, so that my wife and I, hand in hand with what I believe will be a million other women, come together. And we need to come together because when women are attacked, we all are attacked. And when women win, we all win — black women and Latina women and white women and Asian women, women from every color and every ethnicity marching together. And I want to say to women, Latinos are present. And yes, maybe immigration is my primary goal and objective — immigration reform — but I know that when I stand with women, and women stand with immigrants, and gays stand with those who want to increase the minimum wage, when we protect the Mother Earth against those who want to deny the science around our Earth, when we all march together — and that’s what the opportunity for me is that day, to rebuke and to reject those kinds of statements made on the behalf of the president-elect.
I just can’t unhear it. And we know what Jeff Sessions said then. He said that was just locker room banter and then wasn’t much to be said. Now, of course, he wants to be attorney general, so he’s going to change his tune. But it really doesn’t change how he thinks. Tell me his first reaction. Tell me his visceral reaction. Right? And that’s really how he feels about this issue. And I don’t believe he’s changed one iota.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Luis Gutiérrez and Reverend Dr. William Barber, please stay with us. We’re going to come back and get your response to President Obama’s farewell address and also the death penalty sentence of Dylann Roof. Democracy Now! will be covering the inauguration from 8:00 in the morning on inauguration morning — that’s January 20th — until 3:00 in the afternoon, both the inauguration and the protests, and we’ll be there on Saturday, what Luis Gutiérrez is talking about right now, the Million Woman March. We’ll be broadcasting from 10:00 in the morning ’til 3:00 in the afternoon from right there in Washington, D.C., outside where the march will take place. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.