In a Fox News interview yesterday and a speech on the Senate floor today, Sen. Joni Ernst seemed to lack basic knowledge of the Black Lives Matter movement in her home state and framed the recent progress at the Iowa Statehouse in a way that excluded them.
Appearing on Fox News yesterday, Ernst was asked what the protesters back home in Iowa wanted, with one host specifically asking about the Des Moines march from the night before.
“What are the demands of those protesters? What are their intentions?” Ernst was asked.
“Well, their demands, that’s very interesting, because we hear over and over again the calls to defund police,” Ernst replied. “That’s just a liberal talking point. It’s out there to be a very provocative statement, but it’s not solving the issues that we have in the United States today. Again, that’s done by peaceful dialogue and actually finding solutions, real solutions to these very, very hard questions.”
“So, again, folks may be demanding this and that across the United States, but they’re not actually looking for solutions, they’re just trying to be provocative,” she continued. “Let’s have some real discussion, let’s sit down and work through these issues. We’re not going to find it through vandalizing statues.”
Had Ernst been paying any attention to what was going on in her home state, there would have been one very easy answer to the question of what Des Moines protesters want — an immediate restoration of voting rights. Statewide, Black Lives Matter activists are demanding that Gov. Reynolds issue an executive order restoring former felons’ voting rights by July 4, that local officials drop all charges against Black Lives Matter protesters, that the state decriminalize cannabis, and, earlier, that Iowa end juvenile detention and reallocate resources to public and mental health.
The day before Ernst was interviewed, Des Moines, the largest city in the state Ernst represents, passed a racial profiling ban that community activists had fought for over the past two years. While activists were glad that some progress was made by the council, they were also frustrated that it did not ban all pretextual stops by police or create an independent citizen review committee.
That’s something else that Ernst could have mentioned. She likely even would have found at least one thing in their more recent demands or what Des Moines passed that she actually supports.
Many of the organizers of the state’s various Black Lives Matter movements have reiterated in speeches, chants and social media postings that they aim to defund the police. But most of their specific demands in the weeks since George Floyd’s murder has focused on more immediate and short-term policies that city councils and state leaders could address quickly.
In the Fox interview, the hosts continued the right-wing outlet’s obsession with protesters taking down statues across the country, many of which are of former Confederate leaders or past slave owners, and asked Ernst about it.
“I think this has gone far enough,” Ernst said of the statue issue. “We need to restore law and order here in the United States. And of course we support protests, and there are still some folks that are out there protesting police brutality, racial injustice. But peaceful protest is what we are looking for, dialogue, and what we are seeing is just plain-old vandalism.”
The taking down of statues or monuments has not been a focus of Black Lives Matter activists in Iowa, who have aimed most of their efforts on appealing to city councils and Statehouse leaders, along with mass marches and demonstrations.
Ernst was also asked yesterday about today’s showdown over the Republican police reform proposal, which was opposed by dozens of civil rights groups for being insufficient and which the Democratic senators blocked.
“Why would the Democrats not want that?” Ernst asked on Fox News, claiming 80% of the bill was things the two parties agree upon. “Again, it’s just to be provocative. Of course, we’re in an election year and the Democrats really don’t want solutions by this Republican-led Senate, they don’t want solutions found by this Republican president. Again, very provocative, but why would they not come together when we have a 80% or better solution for police reform?”
That “provocative” line seemed to be Ernst’s talking point of the day, employed on Democratic senators and protesters alike, regardless of the context.
Stark differences exist between the Republican and Democratic policing reform bills in Congress. As the New York Times wrote, Democrats’ legislation “would in effect eliminate qualified immunity, make it easier to track and prosecute police misconduct, restrict the use of lethal force and aim to force departments to eliminate the use of chokeholds.” The Republican bill wouldn’t outright ban chokeholds, doesn’t address qualified immunity, and would only collect data on no-knock warrants instead of banning them.
On the Senate floor today, Ernst urged the chamber to act more like Iowa did when they passed the bipartisan reform bill during the abbreviated return of session in recent weeks. She gave all the credit for that action to Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislators.
“In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a historic police reform bill which will add accountability for law enforcement,” Ernst said. “This will benefit both the community and the police. And folks, here’s what’s remarkable about this new law: partisanship wasn’t a factor.”
In Iowa, our legislature put politics aside and passed police reform legislation unanimously. We need more of Iowa in Washington. pic.twitter.com/QKE9nq9jXi
— Joni Ernst (@SenJoniErnst) June 24, 2020
She singled out additional praise for Republican State Rep. Matt Windschitl and Democratic State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, though Ernst didn’t seem to know how to pronounce Abdul-Samad’s first name, despite just talking to him that day and his involvement in the protests and Statehouse bill getting significant TV coverage in Iowa lately.
“I wish we could see more of Iowa in this chamber,” Ernst closed her speech in the Senate with.
Unfortunately, from her recent interviews and speeches, it’s not clear Ernst actually knows what’s happening back home in her state during a historic moment for civil rights.
by Pat Rynard
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