Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mayor Michael Nutter (D-PA) of Philadelphia and Mayor William Bell (D-AL) of Birmingham joined guest host Michael Smerconish to discuss race relations in America. Text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.
Rep. Van Hollen on legislative action for race equality: “There are specific proposals right now in Congress that can make things better in places like Baltimore, around the country. And, instead, what we passed in Congress, the Republicans, a break — $10 million estates get no estate tax, $10 million-plus. “
Mayor Nutter on reducing violence: “I mean, the president has faced such fierce opposition from people in the majority in the House and the Senate, the Republican Party, to virtually anything that he is trying to do. And so it’s not about making the false choice between enforcing the law on violent crime vs. nonviolent crime. People want to be safe. They don’t want people taking their stuff. What needs to happen is investments in education, employment and training programs. And, again, I’m going to come back to, we are here at the beginning of May. Kids will be out of school soon all across America, and we need to stay focused on the issue of summer jobs and skills- building for these young people.“
Mayor Bell on race: “But what you have to understand, this is not an African-American problem, this is not a Baltimore problem; this is an American problem. And what we have got to do is come together at all levels of government to restore the social safety net that ensures that everybody will get a decent education. Once you get that education, you would have an opportunity to get a decent job, to build your neighborhoods and strengthen your communities.”
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SMERCONISH: Joining me from Philadelphia, a city that saw some of the largest protests this past week, Mayor Michael Nutter, and from Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor William Bell. He’s also the president of the African-American Mayors Association. And here with me in Baltimore, Democratic Congressman from Maryland and candidate for the United States Senate Chris Van Hollen.
Mayor Nutter, let me begin with you.
MICHAEL NUTTER (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: Sure.
SMERCONISH: I know that you just hosted 13 mayors in the city of Philadelphia. It occurs to me that the problems you all face are so complex, the question I want to ask, can government at any level reverse the trends that we’re here to discuss? And, if the answer is yes, why hasn’t that happened?
NUTTER: Well, Chris — I am sorry — that’s the congressman.
My — the short answer is yes, but it requires governments at all levels working together in concert, local, state and federal. Government can do a lot of things, partnered with people, and certainly our philanthropic and corporate communities. And that’s part of what we were discussing — Mayor Bell was there as well — with our Cities United convening, the second of its kind.
We had not only the governments, mayors, city council members and representatives from 40 other cities, but we also had our philanthropic community and corporate partners there as well. So, local government certainly can’t do it by itself. We can do a lot of things.
But what we are really talking about is long-term employment or underemployment, especially in communities of color, and especially African-American young men and boys. What we are talking about is lack of educational attainment, and really people having a sense of hope and a vision for the future.
And so what we are really seeing is folks in many instances saying, I am not seeing the kind of change that I want. I don’t see the governments working in partnership and cooperation with each other, and, how do I make progress myself?
The issues of unemployment, especially in communities of color, the summer is coming, summer jobs are critically important, but year- round employment as well, investments in work force training and development programs, these are the issues that we really have to come to grips with, as well as the levels of crime and violence in many communities…
SMERCONISH: Mayor Bell — Mayor Bell…
NUTTER: So, this is very, very complicated, but it requires all of us to work together.
SMERCONISH: Mayor Bell, so much of the conversation I have heard here in Baltimore the last couple of days — in fact, the very speeches that were offered here yesterday in this public square in front of City Hall pertained to race.
And yet, unlike Ferguson, Missouri, this is a community that is governed by African-Americans. Indeed, three of the six police officers who were arrested and have been charged are black, which tells me it’s about far more than race. Do you think that too much of the conversation has been racially focused?
WILLIAM BELL, MAYOR OF BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA: Well, to a certain extent, it has been.
But what you have to understand, this is not an African-American problem, this is not a Baltimore problem; this is an American problem. And what we have got to do is come together at all levels of government to restore the social safety net that ensures that everybody will get a decent education. Once you get that education, you would have an opportunity to get a decent job, to build your neighborhoods and strengthen your communities.
That safety net is not there. And it’s up to all of us at all different levels. We have had the last six or seven years of stagnation coming from the federal government. And at the local government level, we have had to come together and cobble ways to use the resources to strengthen our communities and neighborhoods.
So it’s not just an African-American problem. It’s an American problem. And we have all got to work to find those solutions and implement them.
SMERCONISH: Are the problems, Congressman, that we are here to discuss government-created? Is that why we are talking about government solutions?
REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: I think there are a whole constellation of problems here, but there are some systematic underlying problems that should be addressed by government, both at the local level, the state level and the federal level.
Just last week, for example, we had a big debate in the Congress over a budget that came to the floor. And that budget, frankly, will make poverty worse in places like Baltimore. We have put together alternatives that would improve the situations for family in — families in Baltimore and elsewhere, and we have not been able to move that agenda forward.
So, yes, it’s time for people to come together. We need civic organizations. We need the private sector. Yes, we need government as well. And the debate that is going on right now in Washington, while it’s often abstract in terms of numbers and documents, the real- world impact it can have will make a difference in people’s lives. [09:05:17] And that’s why, for example, the child tax credit, that helps millions of Americans. The proposal in Congress would scale back the child tax credit, would actually put millions of more Americans in poverty. We have got proposals to improve investments in child care, in early education, and also expand, for example, the Earned Income Tax Credit, something Republicans say they are for, but have not put the money into the budget to address.
SMERCONISH: Mayor Nutter, much of the conversation this week has been about the so-called 1.5 million missing African-American men, the fact that one of every six are missing because of either premature death or incarceration.
I’m wondering if, practically speaking, you are prepared to go in your case to Commissioner Ramsey — you have got one of the best police chiefs, I think, in the nation — and ask him not to enforce the low-level crime, so as to reduce the prison population? Or do you feel that in the neighborhoods, people would then see a spike in crime?
NUTTER: Well, citizens, black, white, Latino, Asian, anyone else, people want safe neighborhoods.
And as much as we focus obviously on violent crime in Philadelphia — and we have certainly seen a reduction, 37 percent reduction of homicide over the last seven years, a 17 percent drop in violent crime — people are not willing to put up with any level of crime.
And so we did decriminalize, not legalize, but decriminalize small…
NUTTER: Possessions of small amounts of marijuana.
But if you break in somebody’s car, I am not going to say to the citizens, well, that’s not a violent crime, so we are not going to try to do anything about it. I mean, that’s insane. People want safe neighborhoods. The issue is, again, going back to what my colleague Mayor Bell and the congressman said, how do we get jobs on the table? How do we get employment on the table? How do we invest in communities with economic development?
And whether it’s in Baltimore or Philly or Birmingham or the like, that’s really what will lift everyone up. And the congressman lays out the case. I mean, the president has faced such fierce opposition from people in the majority in the House and the Senate, the Republican Party, to virtually anything that he is trying to do.
And so it’s not about making the false choice between enforcing the law on violent crime vs. nonviolent crime. People want to be safe. They don’t want people taking their stuff. What needs to happen is investments in education, employment and training programs. And, again, I’m going to come back to, we are here at the beginning of May. Kids will be out of school soon all across America, and we need to stay focused on the issue of summer jobs and skills- building for these young people.
SMERCONISH: The mayor mentions Republican opposition. You mentioned Republican opposition.
The Republican response would be, wait a minute, the funding of the Great Society has been a failure. All of these programs have not generated the sort of jobs that are still needed. Maybe it’s a time to go in a different direction. You would say what, Congressman?
VAN HOLLEN: Sure. Two things.
Yes, absolutely, we need to do a lot more, but it has not been a failure. According to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, if you did not have the Great Society war on poverty, 40 million more Americans would be in poverty, and many in deep poverty today. So, we have made gains. But we know from what is happening in Baltimore and around the country, we have got a long ways to go, which is we have put forward proposals to begin to address these kind of matters on an urgent basis.
Just last week, I did a conference with the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, G.K. Butterfield, Barbara Lee, who is a member of the Budget Committee working on these issues, and Bobby Scott, who is focused on lot on the criminal justice reform issues.
There are specific proposals right now in Congress that can make things better in places like Baltimore, around the country. And, instead, what we passed in Congress, the Republicans, a break — $10 million estates get no estate tax, $10 million-plus.
SMERCONISH: Just making a point, though, when you view it in partisan terms, you have to acknowledge that the urban areas that are most afflicted by the problems we are all trying to solve are governed by Democratic leadership.
I want to ask Mayor Bell one final question. Before these cameras leave and before Americans begin to refocus elsewhere, not Baltimore, what should our agreement be, what should our resolve be about the lesson of Freddie Gray?
BELL: Well, the lesson of Freddie Gray is that you had a young man who had certain skill sets, but was unable to find a job.
Therefore, he hung out on the streets with other individuals who were in a similar situation. There were no role models, no efforts to really bring substantial support for him to have a decent life. And we have got that problem all over this country.
[09:10:01] And if we could go back to what we had with the WPA, that we rebuilt our infrastructure using labor and using individuals who were hopeless at the time, we could rebuild America. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build schools in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Congress will not support building schools and building opportunities here in this country. We have got to do better than that. We are a better country than that.
SMERCONISH: Mayor Bell, Mayor Nutter, Broad Street — Broad Street Run day, and Congressman Van Hollen, thank you, gentlemen.
SMERCONISH: I appreciate all your time. I wish we had more opportunity.
NUTTER: Thank you.