Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Beto O’Rourke debate on September 21st featured a lengthy exchange on policing and protests. Watch the relevant footage–or read our transcript below.
Gromer Jeffers: Senator Cruz, this question is for you. This month in Dallas officer Amber Guyger shot Botham John, a Black man, in his own apartment. Why did you caution Representative O’Rourke and others not to jump to conclusions in this case when the Texas Rangers and the Dallas County district attorney said she committed manslaughter?
Ted Cruz: What happened to Mr. John was horrific. Nobody should be in their own home and be shot and killed in their own home. It was tragic. Now the officer as I understand it has had contended that it was a tragic mistake. It was a case where she thought she was in her own apartment, she thought he was an intruder. Right now today, I don’t know what happened that evening. Congressman O’Rourke doesn’t know what happened that evening. But he immediately called for firing the officer. I think that’s a mistake. Look, we have a criminal justice system, a criminal justice system that will determine what happened that night. If she violated the law, if she did that intentionally, she’ll face the consequences. But without knowing the facts, before a trial, before the jury has heard the evidence, Congressman O’Rourke is ready to convict her, ready to fire her. And I’ll tell you it’s a troubling pattern. Over and over again, Congressman O’Rourke, when faced with an issue about police and law enforcement, he sides against the police. So in the United States Congress he voted against allowing funds to go to body armor for sheriffs. When it comes to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he has said he’s open to abolishing that law enforcement agency. And just this week Congressman O’Rourke described law enforcement, described police officers, as modern-day Jim Crow. Let me say something. I’ve gotten to know police officers all across this state—that is offensive. Just today, Fort Worth is burying officer Garrett Hull, with his wife Sabrina and two kids, who was shot in the head risking his life. Here today, officer Bryan Graham, an Arlington SWAT officer, was shot in the head. He is here, and everyday police officers risk their lives for us. Officer Graham is standing there, his two kids, he took a bullet in the head protecting us. And let me say right now, I think it is offensive to call police officers modern-day Jim Crow. That is not Texas.
Beto O’Rourke: What Senator Cruz said is simply untrue. I did not call police officers modern-day Jim Crow. And I, as well as Senator Cruz and everyone here, mourn the passing of Officer Hull in Fort Worth. My Uncle Raymond was a sheriff’s deputy in El Paso, in fact he was the captain of the El Paso County Jail. He’s the one who taught me to shoot and the responsibility and accountability that comes with owning a gun. But he also taught me what it means to serve everyone, to be sworn to protect and serve everyone in a community, not just some people. With the tragic shooting death of Botham John, you have another unarmed Black man killed in this country by law enforcement. Now no member of law enforcement wants that to happen, no member of this community wants that to happen, but we’ve got to do something better than what we’ve been doing so far. If African Americans represent 13 percent of the population in this country, yet they represent one-third of those who are shot by law enforcement, we have something wrong. If we have the largest prison population on the face of the planet and it’s disproportionately comprised of people of color we have something wrong in this country. Republicans and Democrats should be able to work together with law enforcement and members of the community for real lasting meaningful criminal justice reform.
Jeffers: Quick follow-up to you, Senator Cruz. Do you agree that police violence against unarmed African-Americans is a problem, and if so how would you fix it?
Cruz: I believe everyone’s right should be protected, regardless of your race, regardless of your ethnicity. But I’ll tell you something. I’ve been to too many police funerals. I was here in Dallas when five police officers were gunned down because of irresponsible and hateful rhetoric. I was at the funeral in Houston at Second Baptist Church where Deputy Goforth had been shot in the back of the head at a service station because of irresponsible and hateful rhetoric. Just now Congressman O’Rourke repeated things he knows aren’t true. He stated for example white police officers are shooting unarmed African-American children. The Washington Post fact checked that claim and concluded Congressman O’Rourke was wrong. But I’ll tell you something, that rhetoric does damage, that rhetoric divides us on race, it inflames hatred. We should be bringing people together instead of suggesting—The police are risking their lives to protect all of us, to protect African Americans, to protect Hispanics. And turning people against the police I think is profoundly irresponsible.
O’Rourke: This is why people don’t like Washington DC, you just said something that I did not say…
Cruz: What did you not say?
O’Rourke: … and attributed it to me.
Cruz: What did you not say?
O’Rourke: I’m not going to repeat, I’m not going to repeat the slander and mischaracterization.
Cruz: So what did you say?
O’Rourke: I’m not going to repeat the slander and mischaracterization.
Cruz: You’re not going to repeat what you did say?
O’Rourke: This is your trick in the trade, to confuse and to incite based on fear and not to speak the truth. This is a very serious issue and it warrants the truth and the facts.
Moderator: Representative O’Rourke. This question is for you and it’s about the national anthem protest. Polls show that most Americans don’t think that NFL players should be kneeling during the national anthem, even if they believe that they have the right to do so. But you have said there is nothing more American than protesting for your rights. What do you say to people who claim that you’re out of step with most Texans on this issue?
O’Rourke: I mentioned just a minute ago, members of law enforcement are not sworn to serve and protect only some people, they’re sworn to protect and serve everyone in a given community. Those service members who put their lives on the line, who are serving tonight in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, they swear not to a man or to a group of people in this country, but they swore to support and to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, the Constitution for all of us. The Civil Rights Marchers who took their lives into their hands crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, some beaten to within an inch of their lives, those who lost their lives in the Deep South to the racism of America at the time, those Freedom Riders who had the audacity to take Greyhound buses in the Deep South, using the bathroom or the water fountains of their choice, knowing full well that it would end them—it would end up in the Mississippi State Penitentiary Parchman as it did for John Lewis. They marched not just for themselves but for everyone. And when now we have injustice in this country, two sets of criminal justice systems depending on your race, your ethnicity, and your color. That prison population that I talked about that is disproportionately comprised of people of color—too many unarmed African-American men losing their lives in this country. To peacefully protest that injustice, nonviolently, and to call attention to that, to prick the conscience of this country so that those in positions of public trust and power will finally do something, standing up not just for your right but everyone’s rights in this country—there’s nothing more American than that.
Cruz: You know Congressman O’Rourke gave a long soliloquy on the civil rights movement. And I’ll tell you one of the reasons that I’m a Republican is because civil rights legislation was passed with the overwhelming support of Republicans. And indeed the Dixiecrats who were imposing Jim Crow, the Dixiecrats who were beating those protesters, were Democrats. And that’s one of the reasons I’m proud to be a member of the party of Lincoln, a member that stands for equal rights for everyone—regardless of what race, what ethnicity, every human being is a creation of God that our constitution protects. But nowhere in his answer did he address the fact that when you have people during the national anthem taking a knee, refusing to stand for the national anthem, that you’re disrespecting the millions of veterans, the millions of soldiers & sailors and airmen and marines that risk and fight and die to protect that flag and to protect our liberty. And to be clear everyone has a right to protest, you have a right to speak. But you could speak in a way that doesn’t disrespect the flag, that doesn’t disrespect the national anthem. And I’ll tell you those civil rights protesters would be astonished if the protests were manifesting in burning the flag. Dr. King—that’s not something Dr. King stood for. He stood for justice without disrespecting the men and women who fight for this country.
O’Rourke: You heard Senator Cruz’s answer. First of all, he again tried to mislead you by taking a peaceful protest during the national anthem to burning a flag. No one here, myself included, has suggested that anyone should be doing that. He also grounded his answer in partisanship, talking about the GOP being better than the Democrats. Listen, I could care less about either party at this moment, at this deeply divided highly polarized time in our history. This moment calls for all of us regardless of party or any other difference—of race, or sexual orientation, how many generations you’ve been here, or whether you just got here yesterday—we need to come together for this country that we love so much.