In response, Booker delivered an emotional answer about the pain of witnessing the deaths of young black men.
“Look, I have this firm belief that if America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough,” he said. “And living in Newark for the last 20 years, I mean, I’ve been broken, shattered, have moments where I wanted to give up. And a lot of them have just involved the deaths of the ones I remember most, the ones that still hurt me, that reflect on the deaths of young black men.”
The New Jersey Democrat made the comments during a December interview with the Times that took place before he ended his 2020 presidential campaign. The publication said they decided to release the interview “because we thought, after the interview, that Senator Booker was an important voice in the race that had gotten lost on the debate stage.”
Booker, whose campaign focused on changing the criminal justice system and ending gun violence, shared a story he often tells about Hassan Washington, a teenager who was shot and killed. He reflected on how Washington reminded him of his father, Cary Booker, and how he tried to mentor him and other young boys. He also opened up about the moment he learned the teenager was dead.
“But I get home that night to steal a couple of hours of sleep and read through my BlackBerry and I will never forget that moment of being broken because the name on the BlackBerry of the kid that was murdered was Hassan Washington,” he said. “And the shame — I felt that God put him right in front of me, that my dad lived because a community on multiple points in his life would not let him fail.”
“It was packed at Perry’s Funeral Home in the basement and to me it felt like the bowels of a slave ship because we were piled on top of each other, chained together in grief, moaning and crying and wailing at what is a everyday reality in America is another boy in a box.”
He continued: “And I ran away from his funeral. I didn’t even stay. And I ran back to a new mayor’s office and I sat on that couch and I wept because we were all there for his death, but we weren’t there for his life.”
Booker added that there are too many children in the country with the “cards stacked against them,” and said America hasn’t yet lived up to its promises.
“And so I fight and I don’t care what title I have or what office I hold. I will try to honor the love that my father received by living a life of love like that,” Booker said.