While the San Francisco 49ers quarterback’s protest has inspired countless professional athletes and a Missouri lawmaker to join the cause, others have criticized his actions. Speaking with The Huffington Post this week, Booker landed somewhere in the middle.
“It’s something that, to me, I would never do,” the senator said. But he added that Kaepernick’s protest should ignite a meaningful conversation about the racial issues and unchecked police violence that led to his protest in the first place.
“I can condemn what’s going on, but let me at least understand why this is happening,” he said. “...Maybe there’s some things that this person’s saying that should arouse my empathy and actually should arouse my engagement.”
Booker, who compared Kaepernick’s actions to those of Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, also spoke out against critics who have denounced the quarterback’s protest, but haven’t acknowledged the problems he’s highlighting.
“The most perverse reality of privilege is when there is a serious problem in this country, but it’s not affecting you or your family personally, so therefore it’s not a serious problem,” Booker said.
The issues of racial bias in policing and police brutality are wholly intertwined with one of Booker’s biggest initiatives ― criminal justice reform. The senator has been pushing a bill that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenders, but the bipartisan effort has a slim chance of passing this year.
Nonetheless, Booker ― who is just one of two black senators in Congress ― is still strongly committed to the issue. He addressed the exorbitant cost of the U.S. prison system and the disproportionate way mass incarceration affects the most vulnerable groups in the United States.
“The land of the free is the nation of incarceration,” he said. “Since 1980 alone, our prison population in America alone has grown 500 percent. It’s because of this drug war, which is disproportionately executed upon poor people, disadvantaged people, mentally ill, drug addicted and disproportionately minority people.”
He lamented that America has chosen to “invest in prisons,” when so many people are pushing for a change.
“If you think about this, we have a nation right now where common sense tells you we should be going in a different direction,” he said.
This video was produced by Jacques Morel and Rahel Gebreyes, edited by Lee Porcella and shot by Ian MacInnes and Shane Handler.