Sen. Bob Menendez took the unusual step of condemning a colleague on the Senate floor due recent comments considered racist by the New Jersey Senator.
Saying that “you are either going to speak the truth and ruffle some feathers or fail to do justice to the values you hold dear,” Menendez took Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) to task for his recent statement that the Wisconsin senator never feared for his safety on Jan. 6 when pro-Trump supporters attempted a deadly insurrection of the U.S. Capitol.
“Had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned,” said the GOP lawmaker.
Johnson added, “I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned.”
“Is that not racism?” asked Menendez. “I get that no one likes to be called racist. But sometimes there is just no other way to describe the use of bigoted tropes that for generations have threatened Black lives by stoking white fear of African Americans—and Black men in particular.”
Menendez said he was moved to speak on the Senate floor after receiving a letter from an African American member of his staff, Keith Roachford. In the letter, Roachford wrote “Johnson’s comment is worse than the image of the insurrectionists walking through the Capitol building with the Confederate flag. He is perpetuating the racist trope that the country should fear black people. “
Roachford detailed that as a Black man the conversations with his sons when they were young about how to enter a store or how to respond and talk to police officers in any interaction because of the color of their skin.
“Nothing can describe the feeling when you have entered a store and having store clerks watch your every step while shopping,” wrote Roachford. “Senator Johnson’s type of hate speech is nothing new. I understand that the Senate works best when both sides can find common ground but how do we really reach common ground when members hold such abhorrent and racist views?”
Menendez said to read those “pained words” from a valued staffer “both broke my heart and boiled my blood.”
“Thousands of people of color serve in the U.S. Capitol workforce. I should not have to stand here and remind anyone that many of them feared for their lives on Jan. 6,” said Menendez. “But not Senator Johnson. He felt no fear.”
Menendez then addressed right-wing media talking points about violence surrounding the Black Lives Matter in Summer 2020 “every time they are asked to accept some responsibility for perpetuating the lies told by President Trump” that inspired the violent events in Washington.
“The violent picture they paint of (Black Lives Matter) could not be more divorced from reality,” he said. “At this point several reputable studies have confirmed that the protests launched in the wake of George Floyd’s chilling murder were overwhelmingly peaceful. I repeat, the Black Lives Matter movement is overwhelmingly peaceful.”
According to Menendez, a Harvard University that analyzed 7,305 Black Lives Matter protests reported just under 4% of the protests involved property damage or vandalism. A second study, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project—funded in part by the U.S. State Department—found 3% of 7,750 different Black Lives Matter demonstrations were associated with violence or property destruction.
“Indeed, on Jan. 6, as we waited for hours for back-up from the National Guard and other law enforcement agencies to come to the aid of Congress, I know I am not the only one who could not help but think of the violent, government-sanctioned crackdowns that met Black Lives Matter protesters last Summer,” said the New Jersey Senator.
In fact, Menendez continued, lies casting Black Lives Matter as violent have already done real damage.
“They have convinced millions of Americans that they should fear those who march under the banner of this movement for justice… When really it is the resurgence of violent white supremacy that should be Americans’ real cause for alarm,” he stated.
The senator backed up his statement by noting research from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found white supremacists carried out two-thirds of terrorist plots and attacks in 2020. And since the U.S. Capitol riot, law enforcement officials have produced evidence that far-right extremist groups—such the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys—played a major role in plotting and executing the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
New Jersey’s senior senator proclaimed that people who love this country do not desecrate sacred democratic institutions, display symbols of racial hatred like the Confederate Flag in the halls of Congress, hurl ugly epithets at officers of color and assault Capitol Police officers that caused the death of U.S. Capitol officer and New Jersey native Brian Sicknick.
“For Senator Johnson to cast those who attacked the Capitol as harmless patriots while stoking fear of Black Americans is like rubbing salt in an open wound,” stated Menendez. “Everyone in this body should know that when you perpetuate such racist tropes, you contribute to a culture that gives people permission to treat Black Americans as suspicious and their lives as expendable.”
“We in the United States Senate are supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” he continued. “We are supposed to advance America’s long march toward a more perfect union, not coddle and cater to those who would take us backwards. And we are supposed to stand up for the truth.”