House Speaker John Boehner said that relations between black communities and police have reached the level of a national crisis after six Baltimore police officers were charged with homicide in the death of of Freddie Gray.
The 25-year-old Gray suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody, and his death sparked protests and riots last week. The officers involved were charged with murder and manslaughter.
“Public servants should not violate the law,” Boehner said in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. “If these charges are true, it’s outrageous and it’s unacceptable.”
Gray was the latest black man killed by police following similar incidents in Ferguson, New York City and elsewhere that have sparked a national conversation about race and police brutality.
Gray’s death has again raised interest in providing body cameras to police officers. On Friday, the Justice Department announced that it would pursue a $20 million pilot program. Separately, President Obama proposed new funding in his 2016 budget proposal to provide police departments across the country with body cameras.
The idea has support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. During the same interview, Boehner said believes federal dollars should be used to help buy body cameras for police officers as a way to reduce or prevent potentially violent or inappropriate confrontations between police and citizens.
“We have got a lot of police grants that we already have on the books that can be used for this. Why not?” the speaker said.
Other lawmakers, however, say that there are other ways to address the situation in Baltimore and the many problems from which it manifested.
During an interview on CNN’s State of the Union today, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said Congress needs to address severe poverty plaguing cities like Baltimore. He said investing money in education and job training is essential to fighting the systemic problems apparent in impoverished neighborhoods across the country.
"There are a whole constellation of problems here, but there are some systematic underlying problems that should be addressed by government, both at the local level, the state level, the federal level," Van Hollen said.
He slammed the Republicans’ budget proposal for undermining programs that help poor communities, and would make conditions even “worse for places like Baltimore.”
The GOP budget aims to balance the budget over the next decade by cutting about $5.3 trillion total spending — with much of that coming from entitlement programs.
Boehner and other Republicans defend the cuts saying they cause Americans to be “dependent” on the government’s help.
"Our government spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on well-intentioned programs designed to help people get out of poverty. We've been doing this for decades," Boehner told reporters on Thursday. "But from what we've seen around the country, it's clear that this approach is not working."
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