For full context, here is the full excerpt from that story concerning the Speaker: “House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, who controls the 41-member House chamber’s schedule, said during an interview with Delaware Online/The News Journal that he isn’t going to “line up with the cops just because they’re cops.”
But the top-ranking Democrat, who voiced support for the Black Caucus’ proposed reforms at a Wednesday press conference, warned during the interview that proposed regulations such as body cameras aren’t going to become laws without police approval.
“A legislator writing a policy is not going to get the approval of the law enforcement officers, I’m going to tell you that right now,” Schwartzkopf said.“
Now, the push back concerns that last quote. Many people, including myself, have taken that quote, coupled with the unquoted yet paraphrased sentence preceding it, to mean that police officers will have a veto over any reform legislation. In other words, if they, the police, don’t agree to a reform measure, it won’t be passed.
Others, including those close to the Speaker, dispute that interpretation, and say that the quote was taken out of context from an interview conducted over 9 days ago, and point to the Speaker’s more recent comments at the Racial Justice Rally on Wednesday coupled with his history of supporting gun safety legislation and last session’s criminal justice reform bills as evidence that he is indeed on the side of reform.
I cannot speak to that former point concerning whether the quote was taken out of context. If the quote is stale and taken out of context, then the person those who support the Speaker need to talk to is Sarah Gamard, the News Journal reporter who interviewed the Speaker and wrote the story. There was a prior instance where Gamard has used stale or out of context quotes concerning the Speaker, most recently in March or April concerning setting up livestreams or a virtual session of the General Assembly. So I will say such a thing is possible if not probable.
But, that quote standing alone, in or out of context, is still pretty bad, and I do stand by my interpretation of it. It reinforces the impression that many have of the Speaker, given his background of being a former police officer, that he will side with the police in this battle to reform the police. It still tells me that the Speaker may not be the man for this moment.
However, in order to be fair here, I will note two things that speak in the Speaker’s favor. First, here are his substantially full remarks at the Wednesday rally that are more recent that his News Journal quote. He does address head on the pro-cop impression that I and many others have of him. I have highlighted in bold some important or relevant parts.
I will be honest from the start: I have spent a life in public service. Before I was a legislator, I was with the Delaware State Police for 25 years. I wore that uniform proudly and did my best to help people and protect the public.
When police put on the badge and uniform, we as a society give them tremendous power. But it is supposed to be limited and not to be abused.
I know the way that law enforcement officers should always act – and I’m here to acknowledge that that is not happening today. I put on the uniform to help people, not hurt or kill them. There are inherent problems in law enforcement that need to be addressed. I don’t know how or when this “us versus them” mentality took over, but it needs to end now.
I can’t fully understand the challenges that so many people of color experience on a daily basis, simply because of the color of their skin. I don’t know what it’s like to be followed in a store by a security officer, or to be told that you “fit the description” of someone who looks nothing like you other than you’re both black males. But I am listening, and I will continue to listen.
This, right here, is the moment. This is the movement. This is a time like no other in our lifetimes. We are at an inflection point and have an opportunity to seize this moment and turn these recent tragedies into transformative change. We cannot squander it.
I need to address something to my colleagues in the Legislative Black Caucus, and to all of you. When you look at our House Leadership, you see two former cops, and the executive director of the PAL Center. You probably think the deck is stacked against you.
I want to rest your consciences and tell you that we will do the right thing. We will not excuse what is wrong, or unjust. We will not hide behind the badge. We as legislators are instruments for change. We are here to do the right thing for the residents we represent throughout the state.
For far too long, we’ve turned a blind eye to the countless injustices and horrific crimes people of color have endured, or we’ve paid lip service to systemic racism, allowing history to keep repeating itself. We have to do better, starting right here and now.
These conversations are going to be difficult and uncomfortable for many of us to have, but we must have them. These discussions have to be painful to be meaningful. We must make the changes that thousands of Delaware residents are demanding right now.
I believe that the steps we are discussing today have the potential to be transformative. Instead of incremental change, we can work together to take bold leaps forward toward a more just and equitable system for all. It won’t be perfect, and it will be messy at times, but we must be honest and continue working toward our goal.
Second, the Speaker has sponsored and/or voted in favor of the following criminal justice reform bills over the last few sessions.
150th General Assembly
- HB 5 w/ HA 2: Concurrent Sentencing
- HB 7 w/ HA 1: Reducing Barriers for Massage Licensing
- HB 124: Reducing Barriers for HVAC Licensing
- HB 77 w/ HA 1: Burglary Rewrite
- HB 78 w/ HA 1: Robbery Rewrite
- SS 1 for SB 37 w/SA 1: Adult Expungement
- SB 43: Reducing Barriers for Electrician Licensing
- SB 47 w/SA 1: Drug Code Rewrite
- SB 41: Determining Court Jurisdiction for Age of Offense
- SB 44 w/ HA 1: Underage Consumption or Possession of Alcohol
- SB 45 w/ SA 1: Underage Consumption or Possession of Marijuana
149th General Assembly
- House Bill 6: Juvenile Right to Counsel, Waivers
- House Bill 8: Expanding Delaware’s Civil Citation Program
- House Bill 9: Allowing Judicial Discretion
- House Bill 308: Making the Juvenile Civil Citation Program Permanent
- House Bill 442: Further Expanding the Juvenile Civil Citation Program
- Senate Bill 171: Removing Barriers for those Formerly Incarcerated
- House Bill 438: Addressing License Suspensions for Students
- House Bill 402: Eliminating DMV’s Ability to Suspend Student Driver’s Licenses
- House Bill 204: Bail Reform in Delaware
- House Bill 339: Holding Juveniles Charged with Crimes
148th General Assembly
- House Bill 382: Juvenile Right to Counsel
- Senate Bill 198: Juvenile Criminal History Expungement
- House Bill 405: Juvenile Civil Citation Program
- House Bill 211: Ending Mandatory Juvenile Shackling
- Senate Bill 242: Removing Financial Bar to Voting
The Speaker has also voted in favor and/or sponsored a host of gun safety and control legislation, though I consider those bills pro-law enforcement bills even if some in the FOP do not. We can all agree that less guns on the street and in the hands of those prohibited to have them helps the police. I don’t consider them criminal justice or racial justice reform bills.
So, what to make of all this? Like I said, I stand by my interpretation of the quote and stand by my criticism of the Speaker. I will be very pleased if the Speaker proves me wrong and champions the policing reforms proposed not only by the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus, but also by Attorney General Jennings and the 8 Can’t Wait Campaign.
And let me put on the cynical political hat for a moment. The Speaker now has to be that champion. The quote is the quote. Whether it is out of context or not, whether it is stale or not, it has reinforced an already existing impression of the Speaker at the worst possible moment. So the only thing he can do to rescue the situation is to shepard these reforms through, no matter if the police unions oppose them. Look at it this way, Mr. Speaker: only Nixon could go to China.