White House Policy Advisor recaps racial justice roundtable
The president is receiving praise and criticism after holding a racial justice round-table discussion in Dallas, Texas Thursday.
Our Kyle Midura spoke with Ashley Bell, a White House advisor Friday morning to recap the discussion and dive deeper into systemic issues at its core. You can watch their full conversation in the video player above, and you can find the transcript below.
Kyle Midura: Mr. Bell, thank you for making time for us today, what do you see as the biggest takeaways from yesterday's round table?
Ashley Bell -- White House Policy Advisor on Entrepreneurship and Innovation and SBA Regional Administrator:
“Well, thank you for having me today. I think yesterday's roundtable was a fantastic opportunity for the administration to really bring together different stakeholders who are at the core issues surrounding our country right now, economically. And as the country tries to heal, in the aftermath of civil unrest, and the death of George Floyd I think that having the event in a place of faith was important because that's a place where Americans are familiar, where healing begins.
So, being in a church like Gateway where the pastor Robert Morris there in Dallas, was a great start. We had some great words of wisdom from a lot of small business owners, from a lot of the faith-based leaders, but the key was that people were open and honest about some of the critical issues this president has inherited.
And, then we talked about some of the critical policies that the president has put forth to address those issues. But, we know we have to do more, but this president has a very particular and impressive track record when it comes to getting things done. So, we think we're on the right track and this conversation was a great start.
Kyle: There's been a lot of discussion on Capitol Hill, and across the country of what that next step, that more looks like. Anything unveiled yesterday, what can the White House do moving forward to address some of these issues?
Bell: I think the president alluded, that he's going to take some actions, some executive order actions as well as legislative proposals that will address many of the issues that were brought up and have been talked about, throughout the country. What do we do to make sure our people are safe, what do we do to make sure our cities are safe, and people are safe? And how does that work with law enforcement?
And, I think it was important that the president had law enforcement around the table. So many conversations are going on right now in the country where people think that law enforcement is the problem.
But, the president highlighted yesterday, was that law enforcement has to be part of the solution. And, I think you heard from police officers. We had a police chief at the roundtable who spoke very candidly about, there needs to be more transparency, there needs to be more accountability, and I think the president welcomed those comments. But, I think as you see the president go forward, he's going to lead by putting together a coalition of law enforcement, community leaders, faith-based leaders, business leaders, all who have a common goal.
And, I think you've seen him do that before. He did it when he passed the First Step Act, he had law enforcement right there with him. It was the biggest reform we've seen in our criminal justice system in 30 years. He got it done in bi-partisan fashion. So I think he's well-equipped to put together another coalition, for another transformational breakthrough for our country.
Kyle: We have heard criticism, that the top three law enforcement officers from the Dallas area, the sheriff, the police chief, and the district attorney were not invited, can you speak to us about why that was the case, and given that these are three black leaders in the community, why not?
Bell: I know some of those folks, and they're all good people, and I think that this event was held in Dallas, but was meant to project out to the nation. I think we're very fortunate that we had a police chief who is African American, might not have been in Dallas, but he definitely reflects the sentiment of many of his brothers and sisters who have the shield and protect us every day. I think you saw a cross-section of African American business owners all the way from around the country, and I think you saw another cross-section of faith leaders from around the country.
This was a national event, Dallas was really great to host us, but I think it doesn't do this event service by trying to minimize it and say maybe we need to focus on just one city. The entire country is having a conversation right now, around kitchen tables, around board rooms, conference rooms, and they're talking about what do we do as a nation to heal. to move forward, and address systemic issues.
The president did that, and he did that in a way that America was able to see he can pull together a diverse group of leaders. He had a standing ovation yesterday when someone mentioned 'you know what, we talk about a lack of black leadership, and the president has outstanding African-American policy advisors and leaders, and people from the community who are around this table who are leading by example.' And, I think that's what the American people want to see, not only just in Dallas, but around the country.
Kyle: One of those national conversations, that's also happening at the kitchen tables for our viewers of KWTX in Waco, is whether to rename some of these forts that are named after confederate generals, in this case, Fort Hood. Given the legacy of the Confederacy, would it be a meaningful symbolic act to address the stain that is racism in this country to rename some of these forts?
Bell: Well, I think solutions is what the president has always been focused on. And, the question is when we're upset, and you have such discontent in our nation, to have another generation of children like mine that have to grow up in a country where there are still historic, systemic issues that exist, the questions are solution going to address those problems.
So, what I applaud the president for doing, is saying, I understand I've inherited a health care system that was in shambles, a criminal justice system that was in shambles, and an education system that leaves too many children without options to level the playing field by getting a good education. I'm going to focus on making sure we address those systemic issues. And, for parents, like myself and other parents around the country, I know that those concrete solutions that address the very issues of parenting and living in this country in a safe way that allows opportunity for everyone are being addressed by the White House.
KYLE: You mentioned systemic issues, the president has also said he doesn't see systemic racism. Do you see systemic racism and if not, how then should we understand the disparities that we do see when it comes to policing, health care, wealth, education, among others?
Bell: Well, I think the president definitely does see that there's been a historic trend that has put African Americans on the wrong end of a lot of stats. This president is proud to announce that before the COVID virus, he had the lowest African American [unemployment] in the history of this country. And, he recognizes that African-American unemployment had been very high for a long time and had hit the levels that it hit because of issues that specifically challenged African-Americans, when it comes to getting access to opportunities such as employment, when it comes to small businesses getting access to capital, and he's addressed many of those issues.
And, I think the reason you see him focusing on legislation like Opportunity Zones, is because he understands that in under-served communities, [where] many minorities live and they don't have the opportunity to achieve that they should have. And, I think when you pass legislation like that, you're clearly understanding that some areas have systemic issues. And so, by passing Opportunity Zones allowing capital to come into places that have never seen it before, provide jobs in places that have never had them before, that are high-paying and that are IT with job-training around it, I think he's addressing those issues with policy.
And, I think we see that time and time again. When you look at the First Step Act, the First Step Act that he did in bi-partisan fashion, the president understood that by passing the First Step Act, that 90 percent of the people who get out of jail in that First Step Act, were going to be African-Americans. And that is because it was a systemic problem with our criminal justice system that the president addressed head on by passing legislation that now 90 percent of those 3,000 people who are getting out, are people of color.
KYLE: So, I want to be clear, is it your position, is it the president's position that there is systemic racism built into our systems when it comes to policing? We've heard a lot about bad apples, but I want to talk about the orchard.
Bell: Well, I think the president definitely agrees with the majority of the American people who think that there are going to be bad actors and there can be instances where you're going to have bad cops and he understands that, and he's called that out. And so, he wants to make sure that people have access to due process, like everyone else, everyone knows that George Floyd did not have access to due process. He did not have opportunity to defend himself in court, everyone should have an opportunity to make sure that they have a right to live, to interact with police in a way that's safe, and I think the president's going to address that.
But on top of that, I think police understand that. I think the president is leading by making sure that law enforcement understands that people want accountability and they said that at the roundtable yesterday. You have police officers saying 'you know what, we want accountability, we want transparency'. I think the president agrees with that and going forward, you will see the president propose legislation and executive orders that will reflect that collective want, from this entire country to make sure that people have access to transparency and that policing is done in a way that bad cops aren't allowed on the street.
KYLE: But when we look at the data, I mean, we see black individuals are more likely to be pulled over, use of force more likely with black individuals, more likely to have wrongful convictions, can we put all of that simply on bad apples, or does that suggest that given the systems in place, even with good actors in place, there are still systemic racial inequities?
Bell: I think you're exactly right, and I think what's important is that the criminal justice world, in which I belong to, I spent the majority of my career as a public defender. Many of us had to make that same case to the president and he had a great moment of leadership when he took those issues from the criminal justice community and said, you know what, we're going to address them, which is why he passed bi-partisan legislation that gave judges more discretion, that leveled the playing field when it came to certain sentences that disproportionately affected African-Americans.
And, getting that done recognizes that there was a disparate impact on African Americans and for the first time in 30 years, somebody had to do something about it, and he did it. So, when you look at the last 30 years, nothing was done, the trends were going the wrong way, the President made the first step, the first step in the right direction. And the thing is, you have to ask yourself, who else has a record like that in history. You haven't really seen that, so what I'm proud of is the fact that this president is making the first step, and you're going to see the second step as well. And so, all of these steps reflect that we have a system that wasn't fair, but we made the right step in the right direction.
KYLE: I want to pivot back, you mentioned Opportunity Zones earlier, and obviously we did focus a lot on policing because that's the issue of the moment, and because of your background. But when it comes to Opportunity Zones, one of the criticisms that's been leveled is that this has disproportionately, so far, seen cash put into real estate as opposed to running businesses, and that it has disproportionately benefitted millionaires who are white. What do you make of that criticism, can this program be strengthened, do you see any validity in those issues that have arisen?
Bell: What I think is that when the president led congress to pass the Opportunity Zones portion of the tax cuts bill. It had a goal. The goal was to make sure that you had a public and private partnership that needed to be supported by local initiatives. So, the localities, the cities around this country that picked their own Opportunity Zones, they were able to pick where they were. The federal government just certified them.
So, I think when you talk about the ability of Opportunity Zones to succeed, the cities that are doing it well, let's say Birmingham, AL. Birmingham, AL has a very progressive, Democratic mayor, he was the first guy to break ground and provide affordable housing to people that had a rent cap on it, 65 percent of the market rate. We're seeing people use this tool the right way, and a lot of those mayor who are doing it are center-left or Democratic mayors. They're using this tool wisely, and I think those who plan, who understand how to use this tool will make sure that neighborhoods grow, that they grow with jobs, that businesses get access to capital, and the people who live in these neighborhoods do well.
For those local leaders that do not make a plan, that don't have an understanding of what happens when capital comes into neighborhoods like that and it's unplanned, you might not see the effects and results that you want. But, the key to Opportunity Zones, is good local leadership, partnering with the federal government and private sector to make outcomes happen for those that need them.