He Talked About Black Lives Matter, but Will He Act? Where Marco Rubio Stands on the Issues

Meet the Candidates: Does this rising star of the Republican Party truly understand the concerns of black activists?

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Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) statements on the Black Lives Matter movement surprised many last year. But how far will he go in addressing the disparities in the criminal-justice system? The Root’s Meet the Candidates series continues its exploration of where presidential candidates stand on some of the most pressing issues for African Americans. Previously we discussed Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Now let’s take a closer look at Rubio.

Black Lives Matter

In August, Fox News apparently became concerned that Black Lives Matter activists would soon start targeting Republican campaign gatherings after protesters interrupted a Jeb Bush rally. The incident prompted Fox News host Megyn Kelly to ask GOP presidential candidates whether black lives matter or whether all lives matter. Rubio gave a response that seemed to surprise her.

“This is a legitimate issue,” Rubio said. “It is a fact that in the African-American community around this country, there has been, for a number of years now, a growing resentment towards the way law enforcement and the criminal-justice system interacts with the community.”

The former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives said “it is a serious problem” that young black men in some communities are more likely to wind up in the criminal-justice system than in college.

Rubio also shared with Kelly that even black professional men are often viewed as suspicious. He said that police officers had stopped a personal friend of his at least eight times in the past 18 months without giving him a ticket.

“I’d be upset about it. So would anybody else,” he added.

Criminal-Justice Reform

That said, criminal-justice reform is not a top agenda item for Rubio: It is notably absent from the list of issues on his campaign website.

Rubio’s essay contribution to the Brennan Center for Justice’s book on criminal-justice reform, however, offers a glimpse into his thinking. While acknowledging the growing bipartisan consensus about criminal-justice reform and a need for a “spirited conversation” about reform, the candidate laments that “too often that conversation starts and ends with drug policy.” He urges caution about reducing drug-conviction sentences, in order to avoid a return to the consequences of the narcotics plague that began in the 1980s.