Aug 17, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Top Homeland Security official: “Absolutely” no systemic racism in policing

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf told "Axios on HBO" that there’s “absolutely not” any systemic racism in American policing, the latest white, male Trump administration official to dismiss persistent racism in the United States.

Why it matters: Recent polling shows a narrow plurality of Americans believe systemic racism is real and requires action, while data consistently shows how Black and Hispanic people suffer from built-in biases and systemic obstacles. This is becoming one of the major fault lines in American politics.

  • 46% of Americans believe racism is built in to U.S. policies and institutions, compared to 44% who believe racism is perpetrated by racist individuals, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from July.
  • 70% of Democrats call it systemic versus 66% of Republicans who attribute racism to individuals.
  • 65% of Black voters call it systemic; 48% of white voters say it's the result of individuals.

President Trump is on record acknowledging systemic racism: “I’d like to think there is not” systemic racism, he told the Wall Street Journal in June, “but unfortunately, there probably is some. I would also say it’s very substantially less than it used to be.”

Many in his orbit have dismissed its existence in today's America:

  • White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow: "I don't accept the view of systemic racism. I think there is racism in pockets of this country, but I do not believe it is systemic," Kudlow told Jonathan Swan in an interview for "Axios on HBO" that aired in June.
  • National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien: "No, I don't think there's systemic racism," he told CNN in May.
  • Attorney General Bill Barr: “I don’t agree there’s systemic racism in the police department, generally, in this country,” he told Congress in July.

Wolf told Mike Allen in the "Axios on HBO" interview that "this idea that we have systemic racism is not accurate, in my view."

  • "That means that we have designed a system that every law enforcement officer that goes through a law enforcement academy, a training facility, is somehow installed with racist views."
  • "Again, I'm not saying that there's not racist tendencies in some law enforcement officers. I think I wanna be clear about that. But again, what people mean by systemic racism is that we have designed an institution, a law enforcement institution, to be racist from the get-go. And I just — I don't subscribe to that. I don't believe in that."
  • Wolf said he is "all for calling out inappropriate behavior, inappropriate procedures. But the way to get at that is not to call for defunding the police. The way to do that is not to cut their budget by half."

The other side: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told CBS News in June that there is "absolutely" systemic racism in policing.

  • "But it's not just in law enforcement. It's across the board. ... It's in housing, it's in education, and it's in everything we do. It's real. It's genuine. It's serious."
Go deeper