Rashida Tlaib on Defunding the Police: “Property Should Not Have More Value than Human Life”

The democratic socialist congresswoman explains why the U.S. needs to tackle systemic racism by investing in social programs, arguing that “police can’t be the answer to all these ills in our country.”

Rashida Tlaib

(Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

On April 11, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed by officer Kim Potter during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota — another case of a young Black man losing his life at the hands of police. And the killing came as former officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on the neck of George Floyd leading to his death, stood trial just miles away. 

In the wake of Wright’s death, protesters in Minnesota and around the country took to the streets, while many organizers and politicians weighed on the need for systemic change. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D‑Mich.) received much media attention for a tweet she sent the following day. 

It wasn’t an accident,” Tlaib wrote. Policing in our country is inherently & intentionally racist. Daunte Wright was met with aggression & violence. I am done with those who condone government funded murder. No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed.”

Tlaib’s comments were met with cheers from many racial justice organizers, and with rebuke from others, including Detroit Police Chief James Craig who called her tweets a disgusting knee-jerk response,” and even called for her resignation. 

In response, Tlaib has explained that her comments referred to the ongoing lack of accountability for police departments that engage in abuse and the lopsided budgets for policing versus social programs, adding in an email to supporters: I have never shied away from speaking truth to power.”

In this interview with SiriusXM Urban View host Joe Madison, Tlaib discusses her views on defunding the police, why she’s pushing a bill to provide recurring Covid relief payments and the push in Congress to expand the Supreme Court. It has been edited for length and clarity. 

Joe Madison: I want to get some understanding about defunding the police.” Everybody is using that term and I’m getting three or four different interpretations. And then they’re saying, well, Congresswoman [Tlaib] wants to get rid of policing. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib: I think it’s important to know that not everyone in our country right now feels safe, and that like many across this country, I’m tired of seeing band aid after band aid put on a systematic-like wound in our society. And this wound is leading to the death and harm of many of my Black neighbors. 

The way we’re approaching public safety is just not working. And so we continue to see death after death in the hands of police officers with no meaningful accountability for the officers or departments — or really the system — that is involved. And so folks may say, well, this is an accident, the officer’s been arrested and charged” — but we’ve seen this play out over and over again with no justice at the end, and many people are exhausted. And so what you hear with the Movement for Black Lives — much of which was birthed out of mothers who lost their children to police brutality, police violence and police killings — is a push for investment in communities. 

What they see is school counselors are being replaced with police officers, nurses are being replaced with police officers. When somebody comes knocking on your door for eviction, it’s not a social worker from the city coming in, it’s a police officer putting somebody out, it’s police officers addressing the homeless crisis and the poverty crisis in our country. And that system is very much set up to over criminalize, over incarcerate and really punish folks that are the most vulnerable. 

Systematic racism is still very much rooted in the culture of a very oppressive system, which is policing in our country. And to many of us, that’s not public safety. So it doesn’t matter what terminology we use. I think everyone has to agree that it’s just not working, and there are too many people, too many young Black folks, that are dying. I’m tired of people saying, Oh, that was a gun, and it was Skittles, or you can’t even jog through your neighborhood.” 

Everyone needs to feel safe in our country, and right now, not everyone feels safe under this idea that we want to pretend still exists around protect and serve,” and that the police are there to help and serve us. 

What we see over and over again is that those people that are just trying to live freely in our country are being targeted.

JM: Can you get into the root causes of this position you are taking, because people may say, if someone breaks into my house, shouldn’t I be able to call the police?”

RT: Oh, absolutely. But property should not have more value than human life. I want to reiterate that. As a society we have decided that the way we handle issues is to send police and throw people in jail. Mental health, poverty, you name it — we are policing and over criminalizing. It’s not making us safer. 

Let’s remember how George Floyd and the police got called, and even that person who called didn’t know that that was going to lead to his death. Was he a threat? He was literally suffocated and choked. Killed while calling out for his mother. And we are going to continue to justify it, even while hearing the court dialogue [at Derek Chauvin’s trial], back and forth. They are putting George Floyd on trial, not the system. 

JM: Let me go to another issue: recurring payments for Covid-19 relief. What is the purpose of that bill?

RT: It’s called the ABC Act, Automatic Boost to Communities Act, and it provides recurring payments. So a lot of the survival checks, the stimulus checks, that you saw were coming after one year or so, and what we see other countries do is have recurring payments, tied into maybe an unemployment rate, tied into a loss of a job or different conditions. 

We have so many of our neighbors who have lost income because their loved ones died of Covid. That’s irreplaceable income, and unemployment is not going to address that. So we want to take care of our people, do what we do when it’s corporations — have a People’s Bailout and really create sustainable help and assistance. So [the bill] offers $2,000 dollars in recurring payments during the pandemic. Even in Michigan, we see the rise [in Covid-19 cases] as folks are opening up schools and we see an increase. We are running out of hospital beds. 

This bill is going to make sure that our families are taken care of versus them maybe hoping that we will send another survival check. No. We should be able to provide a sustainable approach versus what they have seen now. 

JM: A new bill has been introduced that would add four seats to the United States Supreme Court. Would you would support such a bill? 

RT: Prior to even getting into the United States Congress, I’ve read enough to understand the importance of expanding the core [of the Supreme Court]. 

This is a branch of government that sometimes we dismiss, sometimes we don’t. We understand because they make these sometimes awful decisions that impact our lives forever — some are bad and some are good. But one of the important things that consistently comes out is, is it balanced? Does it have enough folks that can give the American people confidence that decisions will be made in the best interests of the American people? 

So, I’ve been very much in support of the expansion. I have not gotten a chance to read that proposal that is coming out of the Judiciary Committee, but I’m sure if it is led by the leadership there, that they’ve been very thoughtful, talked to folks in the academic areas, talked to legal professionals and others. 

This is not new. We’ve expanded the court, and shrank it, before in the past. So this has been done, but I know just like we’re trying to make Washington, D.C. a state, trying to help give Puerto Rico the self-determination to lead, to possibly being able to self-govern. All these things are politicized. And so folks are going to try to politicize this, but I hope everyone really takes a deeper dive into how this [expansion] actually would help our country have better, much more diverse decisions being made out of the Supreme Court. 

And again, these are decisions that continue to impact all of us. From decisions that have watered down the Civil Rights Act, decisions that impact our public health, decisions that continue to impact women and immigrants and the most vulnerable. That’s what ends up in these courts, and I think it’s really important that it is fair and it’s balanced.

This interview originally appeared on SiriusXM Urban View.

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Rashida Tlaib is the U.S. representative for Michigan’s 13th congressional district. She is a lawyer and served as a state representative in Michigan for six years.
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