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Lankford: Police Not 'Systemically Racist,' But Reforms Still Needed

Sen. James Lankford
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) in an undated photo posted to his U.S. Senate webpage.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said Thursday that while he doesn't agree with those who say American policing is systemically racist, nor does he support an end to qualified immunity, he does believe in making some significant reform to the criminal justice system.

Speaking to NPR's Noel King on Morning Edition, Lankford said he supported penalties for law enforcement agents not using body cameras, increased diversity in urban police departments, a requirement that police departments publicly release information regarding incidents where they use deadly force, and preserving officers' records, "good and bad."

"You are talking about a great number of reforms there, which makes me wonder, do you believe that the U.S. policing system is inherently racist?" King asked. "And if you do, is what you are essentially calling for here an overhaul rather than just a few reforms?"

"No, I would not say that police officers are systemically racist," Lankford replied. "This has been a big conversation that we've had around the country lately. To me, calling all police officers or all police departments racist is like calling all protesters rioters."

"There are some rioters that are in the middle of some peaceful protesters that are frustrated. There are some police officers that are bad apples in the middle of some police departments, and those police officers are frustrated that they've got some bad apples in the mix as well."

King followed up: "One of the major aspects of the Democratic proposal is an end to qualified immunity. That is a legal doctrine that protects police officers from civil lawsuits. Do you agree that qualified immunity should end?"

"I do not, actually," Lankford said. "And this is one of the areas that becomes a difficulty because you've got good police officers that make very difficult decisions in rapid pace. So we've got to find a way to have greater conversation about how do we hold police officers accountable."

"But we can see even the situation that happened with George Floyd, within hours, those officers were fired and, as they work through the criminal justice system, being held to account. So you can hold people to account if you have body camera. You have footage there. You have the details. You have records that are coming out. There are other ways to be able to do this without making every officer on the force second-guess."

Lankford also said he supports the passage of an anti-lynching bill. Such a bill is currently being opposed and held up by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). 

Hear Lankford's interview in its entirety and view the transcript at NPR here.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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