At the end of a day in which Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) was forced to excoriate his colleague Rand Paul (R-KY) for blocking an anti-lynching bill, he spoke frankly and emotionally about his own experience with racism and the police on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Booker began by saying he almost feels “embarrassed” that he wasn’t with the protesters in Lafayette Park this week to “confront what has been, in my opinion, in my lifetime, one of the greatest affronts of our most sacred principles and ideals.”
For President Trump to speak “from one side of his mouth” about standing with peaceful protesters, Booker said, and “then behind him, to unleash tear gas, rubber bullets, men on horseback charging or marching into that crowd, it was horrific, and tramples some of the most, to me, sacrosanct ideals of America.”
But the senator became even more visibly emotional when Stephen Colbert simply asked him what it has been like to be in Washington, D.C., this week as it essentially became a militarized zone around him.
“What it is is sad, what it is is hurtful, what it is is scary,” Booker said, his voice cracking. “I’m a United States senator and I left here late last night, and I literally thought twice about putting on my shorts and a T-shirt to walk home because the painful thing that—and the conversation I’ve had with many other black men this last week—is to know you have this fear, you’ve had it all your life.”
He explained that when he was just 12 or 13 years old, he was already six feet tall and his family felt they needed to teach him that his mere presence would make people feel “scared or uncomfortable.” When he was getting his driver’s license, he said they made him face the reality that “you need to listen to us because a misunderstanding or an interaction could mean your death.”
In his late teens and twenties, Booker said he had experiences in which police officers drew their weapons on him, “with my car surrounded, accused of stealing my car, being followed in malls for years upon years, to being confronted by security guards.” He noted that even Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has talked about “how many times he’s been stopped on the way into the Senate in ways his colleague Lindsey Graham said ‘never happens to me.’”
“I think that what has made this moment in American history so difficult for all of us,” he said, “after Ahmaud Arbery, after Breonna Taylor, after a black man in Central Park birdwatching, having police called on him, and then seeing the death of George Floyd in front of us—this horrific, violent pornography of a killing—I think the thing that’s made a lot of my friends just break down in tears this week is, 30 years ago, Rodney King, when we were marching at Stanford, we felt we could change this and that we wouldn’t have to have these same conversations with our kids, with my nephews.”
“And decades have passed, and we haven’t put this nation to a point where you have kids now in our streets again like I was in my twenties who are really questioning this nation and wondering if a country that has spent generations in search of itself, the values I would die for, liberty and justice for all, equality under the law, we are still in search of making those real.”
As always, Booker was able to put some positive spin on the horror, telling Colbert that it’s “so good to see Americans black and white, the whole rainbow, it’s so good to see their anger, it’s so good to see people who for too long have been too comfortable in this country,” out on the streets fighting for that liberty, justice and equality.
“Now it is displayed for all of America to see, something that is an everyday haunting part of your thoughts that maybe, when I’m walking home as a United States senator, I might be mistaken and something might happen,” Booker said, adding, “I’m emotionally raw.”