Hello, Conan O'Brien here.
For the past two weeks, we've been featuring
prominent black voices on our program,
and I would like to continue that tonight.
Earlier today, I had a fantastic conversation
with Senator Cory Booker.
I do not wanna waste any time,
so let's get right to that interview.
My guest tonight was the mayor of Newark, New Jersey
from 2006 to 2013.
He's also the first African American senator from New Jersey
and was a candidate for the Democratic nomination
in the 2020 presidential election.
I am very honored to welcome Senator Cory Booker,
Senator, how are you?
I'm well, Conan, thank you for having me on again.
I want you to know I put on a nice shirt for you,
this is my talking to a senator shirt.
God, we could've done an agreement beforehand,
a mutual disarmament.
And I would (audio cuts out) shirt on and relaxed.
When I wear a tie, I look like a kid these days
that found his dad's tie.
So I'm trying to show you respect, but not overdo it.
Well, maybe one day, you'll show me the ultimate respect,
and for an interview in the future, you will be bald.
'Cause that would--
That would be the greatest act of respect and deference.
I'll tell you, Senator, it's a good look for you,
it would not be a good look for me, all right.
You can pull it off.
Thank you for doing this, I know you must be slammed
and really busy, but it's a thrill to talk to you.
Because there's so much everybody is trying
to process and understand at the moment.
One of the things I wanted to start with is that we both,
you and I, lived through the riots following the release
of the video of Rodney King's beating and the riots
that followed the police officers being let go.
And I was here in Los Angeles at the time.
You lived through those riots, I know, as well.
And am I correct, these, what's happened since
the death of George Floyd feels very different.
Does it feel different to you?
Well, in some ways, I know that moment very well,
it was probably one of the most explosive personal moments
in my life where I often channeled energy and anger
in every way I could to try to advance issues,
I was a college student, but I had lost control that night,
I wrote a column for Stanford's newspaper about,
Why Have I Lost Control was the title of it.
And it was just this explosion of a lifetime worth
of experiences where you're followed and surveilled
and stopped and had guns drawn on you,
and here I was at a point where I was president of my class,
football player at Stanford, on my way to Oxford to study,
and I just felt like I'm still at this point
where black men in America is putting their lives
at risk every time they have an interaction.
And here, when I saw clearly on a video tape 50 plus blows
to this man that everybody of good conscience can just say
that was wrong that you had that verdict.
And here I was again, 30 years later, I remember that night,
I remember marching in the streets in northern California.
And this feeling came up in me again after Ahmaud Arbery,
jogging in his community, Breonna Taylor,
sleeping in her home, a guy birdwatching
was threatened with something that black men know
could result in beating, being beaten,
being arrested, being thrown in jails.
And then you see this torture of
a human being until they die.
And it's just been a time where you're broken hearted,
not just if you're black.
I just am a big believer, if America
hasn't broken your heart, you don't love her enough,
when this kind of stuff goes on and has now,
that's been about 30 years ago.
So am I hopeful?
I think you have to be a prisoner of hope.
Because America in an of itself is a testimony to people
under the most wretched conditions hoping for better.
And so yeah, it's amazing for me to see 50 states plus
a dozen countries, people protesting, small towns,
big cities, diversity of age, of race,
and then be in a position like a senator
where I could write a bill that could not,
I'm telling you right now, could not have been written
a month ago and get the majority of the Democrats
in the House and the Senate to sign on quickly.
Couldn't have been done if it wasn't for the protests.
So yeah, I'm really hopeful, because there's one thing
I know, and I know you love history,
there's one truism that's true about America's advancement.
From the suffrage movement to workers' right
to civil rights to LGBTQ rights, is that change doesn't come
from Washington, it comes to Washington.
All of those great advancements were preceded
by Americans getting up off of the couch
and getting involved in protest, in pushing,
in demanding that their government leap forward,
and this has got to be one of those moments.
I often, people ask me about history or the country,
I always say the same thing, America's a work in progress.
It's always been a work in progress.
And there's a lot to do, and then unfortunately,
it almost feels that we've experienced way too many
of these moments where we realize how much we have to do,
how much work we have to do.
Well, I think it's a disconnection
where we have a poverty of empathy for each other.
And King in his letter from Birmingham Jail,
I posted on my Instagram account this one section
where he says, what worries me more than the Ku Klux Clan
and the White Citizens' Council
is actually white moderates, he was saying.
Call this out, this idea that people
who don't feel moved enough to get involved
in changing the injustices that they would themselves admit.
And so we're at this moment, I think, where it is a test
to will we address that poverty of empathy.
And I see signs that we are, because these problems
cannot be solved with the same levels of empathy and love
with which, that allowed them to fester for so long.
We need to raise the level of love,
and love is not an anemic word, it's not saccharine,
love is actually sacrifice and service
for those who are suffering or struggling.
And so this to me is really one of those moments
where we are at a crossroads in American history.
And my hope is that this becomes one of those big moments
where we all look back and, when we're asked by our children
or grandchildren, what did you do when America was
at a crossroads?
Did you sit at home and hope and wish and cheer
on the sidelines, or did you get on the streets
or get engaged in a way that made it happen?
And that's my prayer, because my grandmother, black woman,
I would ask her those questions,
where were you when this happened?
I still remember, World War II,
she wasn't storming beaches in Normandy,
but she bragged to me that she had victory gardens
and she bought war bonds and she was a part of the effort.
That's when we're at our best, when we're all invested,
and that's still the test that's going on right now,
is will we all be invested?
I know, I've been trying to talk
to people about their personal stories.
I know that you have the experience of your parents talking
to you when you were 12 or 13 years old
about being careful when you went out in the world
because the color of your skin puts you in peril.
Yeah, I think that that's the thing I've...
And I hate to use this word, but I feel
a lot of shame about.
Because my parents did the right thing for a young boy that,
by the time he was 12 or 13 was over six feet tall,
and that they knew that this world would potentially see me
as a threat.
And I had conversations early on,
especially around the time I got a driver's license,
where my parents not just told me to be careful,
but made me sufficiently afraid to protect my life.
And I guess when I say shame, I'm not shameful
about my parents were of a generation where they,
their circles had stories about vicious interactions
with police and authorities.
But I think the shame that I'm talking to
is that I've had 30 years of adulthood now
and now I have to tell my nephews and my mentees,
I have to give them the same lesson
that we shouldn't have to give in America to kids.
And so it hurts a lot that this tradition,
this awful, wretched tradition,
continues in this country, and it needs to end.
I was speaking to a friend of mine,
the comedian Ron Funches on last night's show.
His son's autistic, and he said, for years,
he's worried that his son would act out in public.
And because of the color of his skin,
his life would be at risk if the police had to intervene.
But it's not an irrational fear.
People are shot holding a cell phone,
people are shot reaching for a pen.
And then those officers who use that awful,
unleash that awful violence, can say that they were afraid.
So I, this has been a week where I've talked
to a lot of my African American friends who are parents,
and every conversation just hurts at a level that,
it's just difficult and you feel weary
and you feel exhausted and sick and tired.
But at the same time, you know you have to engage
in an impossible alchemy that better generations than us
have engaged in, that somehow you can transform that hurt
and that pain and even trauma for many into change,
into an expansion of the consciousness of others, into love.
And so many communities in America have had to,
been forced to bring forward that rare magic
where you have to turn hate and complicity
into action to save your own lives
and to save the soul of your country.
I wanna specifically talk about the police,
because this is a conversation in the last two weeks
that's morphing and changing all the time.
And it feels now we're in a moment
of talking about how specifically can we do something
to make sure that these deadly conflicts
with the police are, don't exist,
which might be a pie in the sky dream,
but are certainly much less frequent.
And you have a bill that you've put forth,
the Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
What are the specific things in that bill
that you think could make a difference?
So I wanna confess to you, it may be
the broadest police accountability bill ever
in the history of our country.
But it's very narrow, so it's stopping stuff
that's just common sense you shouldn't, choke holds,
racial, religious profiling, no knock warrants,
a whole bunch of these practices,
in some cities, they're banned,
that should be the law of the land for America.
Number two, it just says, hey, if you really violate
the law, if you engage in criminal behavior,
you should be held accountable for that behavior.
And so it creates a better platform
for criminal prosecution on the federal level,
a standard that's achievable for people
who do seriously wrong, and if you violate
someone's civil rights, that you no longer
have something called qualified immunity.
And then the last thing, which is just so obvious
to me as well, is that sunshine
is the ultimate disinfectant.
If every department has to report up their uses of force,
their police misconduct, it creates the ability
for an average citizen all the way
to a person in the Senate to be able
to hold a department accountable and stop some things
that are bizarre in this country,
where someone in one city can create,
do awful accidents of police misconduct,
quit that department, move to another city and get hired
without that new department even knowing about their record.
So this is a broad, strong bill, but I'm gonna tell you,
when I say it's narrowly tailored,
it does not ultimately solve the larger problems
of our society, what I mean by that is, King said,
I can't legislate you to love me,
but I can stop you from lynching me.
And so this is a bill that serves to stop
what we saw with Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor,
I can go through that, but what is the larger call
of activists, this is the beauty in a lot of things
that I'm hearing right now.
Is again, back to that issue, is what is the quality
of our mercy, what is the level of our love in America?
Because everybody, I can talk to people
on both sides of the isle.
I've talked to law enforcement officers.
My first meeting with the FBI when I was mayor of my city
when we were going through gang intelligence and I asked
this guy, just to see what his response would be,
how do we solve this problem?
And the head of the FBI says to me,
we don't solve this problem.
Because the law enforcement officials in our country
are dealing with symptoms, they're dealing
with our lack of love and mercy towards each other.
20% of our incarcerations are for people
with drug addictions and suffering with drug abuse problems,
and we don't give them help, we give them prison
and jails, put them back on the streets,
they get rearrested multiple times,
costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars
before they might find their way into treatment.
People with mental illness.
We criminalize them for a healthcare issue
and don't get them the treatment,
we throw them in our prisons and jails.
Low income people, we have criminalized poverty
in this country.
Any American knows when you have
to make this terrible decision, do I pay
for a traffic violation, which now has resulted
in a warrant for my arrest, or do I pay my rent
or put food on the table for my kids?
We have been defunding public education,
we have been defunding the kind of things,
I can show you the data that, social scientists
can show you, prove that it would lower crime
and our need for police in the first place.
So my bill that I wrote with Kamala Harris
and the head of the Congressional Black Caucus and Nadler,
an incredible coalition to just hold police accountable
is important, but what we should be striving for,
don't we have a greater moral imagination in our country
that we can, that we've created a police state.
We are 4% to 5% of the globe's population,
but one out of every four incarcerated people
on the planet Earth is in the land of the free.
One out of every three incarcerated women
on the planet Earth is in the land of the free,
and it's such a racially biased system
that we are now at a point in America
where there are more African Americans
under criminal supervision, prison, jail,
probation, parole, than all the slaves in 1850.
What is the quality of our mercy,
what is the level of our love?
That's what the artists of activism on the streets
are beginning to call for.
Can't we be a society that stops problem before they happen,
and then we throw it all on to our police
and our prisons, never really truly affirming human dignity
and actualizing human potential?
It feels to me, I had a conversation the other day
with W. Kamau Bell, who made a point
that has resonated with me ever since,
that's what I go to sleep thinking about
and what I wake up thinking about,
which is this is about all of us doing our work, meaning,
rather than, yes, there need to be institutional changes
in some of the ways that we enforce the law,
there needs to be accountability,
these are things that are clearly true.
But it is false to say this is all up to other people,
meaning for me to sit back and say, someone fix the police
and then I'm here, I'm just gonna watch the news
and see if that happens.
Everybody has to be accountable,
everybody has to practice empathy every day and sensitivity.
It's a practice the way yoga's a practice
or any other exercise is a practice or religion
is a practice, it's something that you have
to engage in all the time.
Yeah, Conan, I'm here in part because of a white guy
who was doing nothing on a couch in New Jersey four years
before I was born, 65, he was watching
a movie back when we had three channels,
most of America's watching Judgment at Nuremberg.
The movie is cut into because of something going on
on a bridge called the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
He watches John Lewis and others being beat viciously,
we know it as Bloody Sunday, and a white guy
in the suburbs on a couch stands up, he's so moved,
he doesn't allow his inability to do everything
to undermine his determination to do something,
and he decides to go to Alabama, then alas,
he can't afford a plane ticket, he just started a business.
But he says, you know what, one hour a week,
I'm gonna do something, and he calls and he finds
these activists that are helping
to break housing segregation, because black families
are being turned away from the suburbs in New Jersey.
And he goes to, four years later,
he's got a sting operation set up,
he's representing a family.
They were turned away from a house,
a white couple posing as them gets to buy the house,
they put a bid on, on the day of the closing,
lawyer, black man, attacked by the real estate agent
with dogs, punched in the face.
Lo and behold, they eventually move
into this incredible nurturing home
and a great community with great public schools.
That was my family.
That guy represented my family, because in a moral moment,
he stood up and said, I'm just gonna give an hour a week.
If he didn't do that, I might not be sitting here
having this conversation.
And to say any of us are powerless
is to surrender our power.
To say any of us are not responsible is to be complicit
in the very injustice which we criticize.
And so the question is, what are you gonna do?
All of us, we have to, I've got more texts from people
of good faith, in good will, saying,
I don't know what to do, what can I do?
And my response has not been to tell them what to do.
My response is to never let go of that question.
Every day, wrestle with that question, let it haunt you,
let it push you to always say I'm doing something,
something in the cause of my country.
Because we all, every one of us, drink deeply
from wells of freedom and liberty
and privilege that we didn't dig.
We are here because of people that were willing to die.
We are all, no matter who we are, this,
what we're living is our ancestors' wildest dreams.
But you cheapen it and degrade it
if you don't continue with that commitment
so that our great grandchildren will one day be living
in an America beyond our dreams that really does,
as a nation that's in search of herself,
really does make real on the promise
that we have liberty and justice for all.
You've spoken a lot about empathy.
And it's impossible for me not to mention,
we've actually had almost two weeks of shows I believe now
where we've not once mentioned the president
of the United States, because I haven't wanted him
to be a part of the conversation.
I've wanted the conversation to go deeper than that.
But I'll bring him up now, because we have a leader
of the country who I think everyone would agree
has a chronic inability to demonstrate empathy.
And I feel that that has been a situation like what happened
after the killing of George Floyd is,
as crazy as it sounds, it's an opportunity for change,
it's an opportunity for the president of the United States
to bring us all together and to say beautiful things
that might actually bring about lasting change.
And I feel that that has been squandered by our president.
Yeah, so I love you for not centering him
in your conversations, because it's not about him,
this election is coming up, it's not a referendum
on one guy and one office, it's really a referendum
on who we are and who we're gonna be to each other.
And we've got to raise the frequency in our nation
in terms of the love and empathy, but you mentioned him,
so let me just say this.
I just fundamentally believe, and I've watched leaders
on both sides of the isle demonstrate this.
You can't lead the people if you don't love the people.
And he just does not love all American,
you don't have to agree with all Americans,
but his willingness to so cavalierly deny
so many Americans human dignity, for him to trample upon
the very humanity of other Americans,
to cheapen this nation by working so hard
to divide us and to make us hate each other.
All of these things mean he is illegitimate
in the kind of moral leadership that we need.
He may have the trappings of power,
he may have the title of the office,
but the title doesn't make the man,
the man has to make the title, and he has been a failure,
a failure in a moral office that Republicans
from Lincoln to Democrats like Obama,
who have led with love for their country,
with malice towards none and with charity towards all,
he's had so much malice towards so many
and so little charity towards others.
So I just want this to be a moral moment in America
and I'm so proud of his former cabinet members
and national Republicans who are coming forward
and saying just that, that this man
is uniquely unqualified for this moment in history.
And he has cheapened, to me, the greatest ideal
in all of humanity which America has striven
in every generation to make manifest in this world,
is that we are a nation of love where we love one another,
he has so failed to be in the fight
to make us a more loving nation, or as King would say,
a more beloved community, and I am, I have so much hurt
for what he's done to people.
And I've watched it, I've watched people,
when he calls some countries shithole countries.
I've seen people, immigrants, come to me,
begging me to do something about it,
I've watched him degrade, I talked to a college friend
of mine whose kid was in Lafayette Park when he stormed in,
had people storm in with rubber bullets and tear gas.
And he anguished that somebody would think,
in this sacred capital where people, from the March
on Washington to Second Amendment rights people
have come for generations to peacefully petition
their government, and he just tramples that for what,
a national security issue because he had
to urgently get someone?
Nope, to hold up a book that he should read
that talks about humility and the meek.
So I can't give him more of my energy,
I wanna give it to us, I wanna give it to love,
I wanna give it to good people who right now
don't understand the urgency for them to act.
That's where I wanna give it, and so I don't wanna,
he is not the center of my concerns.
And I appreciate you having a show that reflects that.
Well, I have not wanted to do Trump jokes
or make it all about Donald Trump, because ultimately,
I find him very uninteresting and his actions sadden me.
But I'm angry, I reserve my anger
for people that enable him.
That's what makes me angry, and I get very angry
at people who do know better, who are in a party
that may be, in the short term, benefiting from the fact
that he holds that office, but in the long term,
I don't know how they're gonna be able
to talk to their kids, to their grandchildren.
And so I'd been very moved by,
especially the military leadership that's come forward,
Mattis, Kelly, most recently Colin Powell.
That is something that the Republican Party
does show respect for, is our military leadership,
and when you have these prominent members
of the military speaking out, that,
my heart swells with pride.
And I'm very happy that people are coming forward,
I just wish there were more, I wish there were more people
who would step forward and say, you know what, yes,
we got some good court appointments, yes,
we got some stuff done because we had someone
in the Oval Office who would do our bidding,
but this is too much.
I wish we'd hear from more politicians like that.
Well, we've heard throughout history, the bystander.
King talked about, we have to repent in our day and age not
for the, simply for the vitriolic words
and violent actions of the bad people,
but the silence and inaction of the good people.
So I think that you're right and I think that this, again,
is that moment in American history.
And I actually feel sorry for the Republican Party because,
as a lot of his primary opponents in 2016, 15 and 16, said,
they predicted, Lindsey Graham, all of them,
predicted he would destroy the Republican Party.
And a lot of them have gone silent now
and are refusing to tell the truth of the perversion,
the meanness, that he's cavalier in the meanness
that isn't at the heart of a lot of Republicans,
you named some of them, like Colin Powell.
And so this is ultimately a test, and that test isn't over.
This is a president who could disrespect
the peaceful transition of power in 150 days if he loses,
he's already trying to illegitimize the election.
This is a president that is capable,
has shown us that he's capable of anything.
And so the stress test on this nation
over the next 150, 160 days are gonna be great.
And this is a defining moment for all of us.
And in a defining moment, you're not defined
by what happens to you.
This guy's capable of anything.
You are always defined by how you choose to respond.
And I agree with you, I'm happy for those
who have decided to respond by not silence,
but by speaking up, by lifting their voices
to be heard by history.
I keep, and I hate to be, I don't wanna have
a false note of optimism, but I've been looking for that,
and I've, we started out this conversation
by talking about Rodney King.
That felt like it was a moment that then passed.
This feels like it has the potential to be a moment
that lasts, a moment that continues.
I'd like it to be, I'd like it to be a moment
where we don't say, okay, we made it through that
and now things have calmed down.
I'd like to believe that there's gonna be lasting change.
And I do think the fact that we are now,
it's been over two weeks and we are still seeing
an incredible amount of unity in the reaction to how,
to George Floyd's death, but also just the history
of how common this was.
This was not a surprise to black people, his death,
it was sadly, it shocked many other people,
but sadly was not a shock to people
in the African American community.
Not at all.
And I think the African American community
has had to find a way to work through disappointment over
and over again and betrayal over and over again.
And I just think about this last week,
where Senator Harris and I were on the floor
to try to meet a moment where all the House,
members of the House of Representatives but four voted
for an anti-lynching bill that 99 senators understand
that this has been a bill that
has been tried over 200 times, well over a century to pass,
failing over and over again, that this country
with the most shameful history
that we don't teach adequately
in high school or even college.
But the greatest periods of domestic terrorism
we've ever seen, thousands of African Americans
being lynched, not to mention disappearing or being beaten.
And we were on the verge of passing yet again
and we failed, because a senator objected to it.
And so I just think that that's the moment we have
to recognize, civil rights legislation failed
for decades and decades until it passed.
Suffrage movement failed over and over
and over again until it passed.
And the people that can work through heartbreak
and recognize the heart, that's that one organ
that keeps beating even though it's broken,
that that's what we need to be sustained by.
So I'm a prisoner of hope just like you,
but hope will get slain.
In fact, the message, where King was killed,
if you go to Lorraine Motel right now and look down,
and it's words from the Torah and from the Bible
are written there where King was slain, it says behold,
the words of Joseph's brothers before they killed Joseph.
It says behold, here cometh the dreamer.
Let us slay him and see what becomes of his dream.
And I really think that that's the moment
we're in right now in America,
is what will become of our dream.
Heroes have been slain, martyrs have been made.
But it's up to us, the living, to answer that question,
because the dream of this country is,
we're still in search of it.
We, it still beckons to us from beyond our grasp.
And I'm just hoping that we can be the nation
that together comes forward and says,
not on my watch will we lose this dream, in fact,
we will advance it for the next generation.
And if we can do that now, I will,
this could be the greatest era, often,
sometimes you have to face the darkest of times
for America to lurch forward, this could actually be one
of the greatest periods right in front of us
of national advancement where we make this
a more loving nation not just in words,
'cause sentimentality is easy.
But we can make it in substance, in our laws.
And that's my hope, that's my dream.
Well, an absolute honor to talk to you, Senator.
And I hear you and I think a lot of people hear you.
And I think a lot of people are committed
to making this a day in, day out,
I'm gonna call it an exercise, struggle.
But just through actions rather than sentimentality
and then hoping someone straightens this out,
because we all have to dive in.
Thank you, from your lips to God's ears, thank you.
No one's listening to me.
(Conan and Cory laugh)
That guy stopped listening to me a long time ago
or (laughter drowns out speaker) whatever.
I don't know God's gender, but God's seen too much
of my foolishness over the years.
But really, thank you so much, I know you're very busy
and I know you're doing very important work.
And so bless you for taking the time today,
I really appreciate it.
Thank you, my friend, thank you so much.
Take care, I salute you.
I don't even know if that's proper, but I bow and I--
I will namaste you.
Next time we talk, I'll have shaved my head.
Oh, that's exciting to me, if that ever happened, truly,
you could pull one of those bald caps on,
that would be enough.
Maybe we'll do that, because this thing, I'm sure,
is going to look hideous.
You can pull it off, I cannot pull it off.
All right, have a great, have a great day,
and thank you very much.
Thank you, thank you so much.
Thank you, good night.