Transcript: Sherrilyn Ifill on "Face the Nation," June 28, 2020

Top NAACP lawyer: Police accountability "totally absent" from GOP bill
Top NAACP lawyer: Police accountability "tota... 06:11

The following is a transcript of an interview with NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill that aired Sunday, June 28, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: Joining us now is Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, an organization dedicated to fighting for racial justice. She joins us this morning from Baltimore. Good morning.

NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND PRESIDENT SHERRILYN IFILL: Good morning, JOHN. 

JOHN DICKERSON: I want to start with that video that we just played for Senator Scott. Apparently, the president has now taken it down, but when you're president, you can't delete the things you say. And I wanted to get your reaction about the white power video that he promoted.

IFILL: This is really not about the president taking it down. This is about the judgment of the president and putting it up. It's about what the president believes. And it's time for this country to really face that. I spent the first few years of this presidency with reporters asking me questions over and over again about whether, in fact, the president was racist and whether he support supported white supremacist ideologies. I'm through answering that question because the president answers it himself and he did this morning.

JOHN DICKERSON: In talking to the vice president, I asked him about the phrase Black Lives Matter, and he said all lives matter. I wonder in the current context that in this moment of protests, like we haven't seen since the 1960s, what you think he misses about that phrase and what it means in this moment?

IFILL: I think that we don't have enough time on this program to actually explore all the things the vice president is likely missing. You know, even if the vice president had said black lives matter, it would be hollow. And I wouldn't believe it because he is the vice president of the United States, just like we have a president, just like we have senators and they should be judged by their actions and what they do. And, you know, when I hear the vice president say that for his entire life, he has been guided by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. Then he would know what Dr. Martin Luther King Junior said about protests in 1965 and 66 that protested police violence in African-American communities when he said riots are the language of the unheard.

So to hear him say that and then at the same time hear his comments about protests, demonstrate that the vice president is far from understanding the significance of this moment and really what his obligation is when people across the country in 50 states, not just black people, but people of all races are coming together and standing together and saying enough is enough.

JOHN DICKERSON: One of the responses to that cry from the streets is the bills that have gone through the House and the Senate focusing on the Senate for a moment. We just talked to Senator Scott, whose bill was blocked. Part of what the Democratic senators did was cite your work in why that bill should be blocked. Was it irredeemable that legislation or is there any common ground here just to to get maybe some movement on this issue?

IFILL: You know, much as told by the senator's words that this is a response to the cries from the street in light of the death of George Floyd. That is not where this started. And the problem is that too many people in the United States Congress have only woken up to this issue or decided to do something about this issue in the last six weeks or the last four weeks. Where- where- where they in 2014 when people were protesting in Ferguson? Where were they in 2014 when Eric Garner was choked to death on the streets of New York? And that's just, you know, in 2014. Some of us can go back to Eleanor Bumpers and Michael Stewart and Clifford Glover. This is a decades long struggle. The protests of the 1960s in 64, 65, 66, 67, in cities all over this country, 150 cities, almost all of those protests, all of those incidents of unrest began with an encounter between law enforcement and African Americans and African American communities. So we've had a lot of time to think about what is needed and what is needed is a regime of accountability. And the problem with the Senate bill is that it is not- it does not propose a regime of accountability. It proposes a regime of data collection and the creation of commissions to study a problem that we already know quite a bit about. So what we need is accountability, and that is completely absent from the Senate bill. The House bill does include a regime of accountability. And I will say I'm not a- I don't represent the Democratic Party. I represent communities of- of color. I represent black people as a civil rights organization, as leader of a civil rights organization, and we didn't get everything we wanted in the House bill either. But the House bill does include a strong regime of accountability. It addresses the issue of qualified immunity, for example, which you were discussing with Senator Scott.

JOHN DICKERSON: Walk me through qualified immunity because there's some ways in which qualified immunity is very helpful for federal workers trying to do their jobs. It's- explain the problem in terms of accountability and whether there's- is any middle ground here that can be found? 

IFILL: Well, first of all, this bill only would eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, so it would be limited to that category. Secondly, qualified immunity has been so distorted. The doctrine basically is a defense that allows public workers, police officers in this case, to be able to defend themselves against actions they may have taken unless it was clear that those actions violated the law. In other words, there has to be a clearly established law that the actions were unconstitutional. But courts have now taken it to the point where unless the exact fact pattern- so a police officer tases to death our client in Phenix City, Alabama, and we can't get the Supreme Court to hear the case because there has to be an- an exact scenario of- of someone being tased to death 19 times that has been found to be unconstitutional in order to establish that qualified immunity is not available. It is beyond belief, the kinds of cases, the kinds of egregious conduct that we see and the way in which has been distorted. Conservatives, many conservatives also understand the qualified immunity has gone too far, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who said he's willing to look at it. 

JOHN DICKERSON: Alright. 

IFILL: So we need to deal with that element of accountability.

JOHN DICKERSON: Alright, Sherrilyn Ifill.  We're going to have to end it there. We've run out of time. Thank you so much for being with us.

IFILL: Thank you for having me, JOHN. 

JOHN DICKERSON: And we'll be right back.