After summer of protests, Senate candidates commit to different levels of criminal justice reform

Store owners in Valley Junction board up their windows and show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. (Photo by: Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Over the summer, politicians locally and nationwide felt heavy pressure from Black Lives Matter activists, as they demanded policy changes following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

In Iowa, Republican and Democratic legislators came together to pass the “More Perfect Union” plan to improve race relations and bias by law enforcement. Both Sen. Joni Ernst and Democrat Theresa Greenfield praised the plan and said Congress needs to follow the example set by the bipartisan bill.

In a contentious exchange during their first televised debate, Ernst accused Greenfield of saying law enforcement officers are racist, pointing to the Democrat’s comments that law enforcement as an institution is “systemically racist.”

“I don’t believe that and I believe our communities can work together,” Ernst said. “They don’t have to be opposed.”

Greenfield said acknowledging systemic racism is not the same as calling police officers racist.

“We have systemic racism in all of our systems and have for generations, including our policing system,” Greenfield said. “That is not saying our police officers are racist.”

Here’s a look at the candidates’ positions on criminal justice reform and race relations:

Criminal justice reform:

Ernst

  • Supported Senate GOP criminal justice reform plan
  • Supports encouraging police departments to ban chokeholds through federal financial incentives
  • Improve police accountability and examine “qualified immunity,” which protects officers from scrutiny under the Constitution.

Greenfield

  • Supports requiring law enforcement officers to wear body cameras.
  • Supports banning most chokeholds, similar to Iowa’s recently passed law.

Race relations:

Ernst

  • Supports renaming military bases currently named after Confederate generals

Theresa Greenfield:

  • Supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which amends the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to try and remove barriers that may keep people of color from voting.
  • Supports passing the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, which provides funding to better research and determine why Black women are more likely to endure pregnancy complications.