Consultants Carville and Matalin say police forces need more pay, better training, more minority officers in light of recent tragedies

07/12/2016 10:52 PM

LEXINGTON — Hours before President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush spoke at a memorial for five Dallas police officers slain in a racial shooting attack by an African-American veteran last week, political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin offered their thoughts on police-race relations on the closing day of the Southern Legislative Conference.

Both said cops should be better trained and paid more, with Matalin adding to more than 400 at the Lexington Convention Center on Tuesday that more minority officers should be recruited to law enforcement.

Carville noted that his daughters live in Baton Rouge, where a police officer shot and killed a black man pinned to the ground outside a convenience store last week. In a search warrant for the store’s surveillance footage, officers wrote that Alton Sterling reached for a gun after he didn’t comply with orders and they had deployed their Tasers, according to CNN. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Sterling’s death.

“It’s possible to say, you know, our police need to be really well trained to be able to diffuse situations, at times they can be overly aggressive,” Carville said, “and also that police have a very vital, dangerous job that they do every night. You don’t have to be one or the other.”

He added that there’s reason for concern with both minorities and police officers.

The Democratic consultant, who helped elected former President Bill Clinton and ex-Govs. Wallace Wilkinson and Brereton Jones, said in a hypothetical situation that he would be equally concerned with an adopted black son and a son who is a police officer who both said they would be heading to New Orleans’ French Quarter.

“I’d say, ‘You be damned careful. If somebody stops you, don’t jerk, don’t do anything, just be careful son,’” Carville said he’d tell his adopted son.

To his son in law enforcement: “You be damned careful. You don’t know who’s got a gun out there. You don’t know who’s what when you approach somebody. That’s a contradictory thought, and my point is it’s OK to hold that.”

Matalin, from the south side of Chicago, said she attended beauty school in classes dominated by minorities

“Did my African-American girlfriends get hassled? Yes,” said the conservative consultant, who helped elect former President George H.W. Bush and worked in his son’s administration. “Driving while black? Yes. Walking while black? Yes, but the key difference was my parents, I was raised to respect, to trust Officer Friendly. My girlfriends were raised by parents who had been subjected to not just harassment, but the brutality of the Jim Crow years, and there is a fear.”

“Everyone keeps saying, ‘Who’s better for this, Hillary or Donald?’ Neither,” she continued. “It’s us. We have to have these conversations.”

Carville agreed, saying that there won’t be a single politician who will single handedly resolve the issue.

“I still think that part of the answer is you’ve got to have a better screened, better trained, better paid police, but as every legislator here knows, the biggest problem with getting people is getting someone to pass the drug test,” he said.

Easing the tension of today’s clime will require understanding on both sides, said state Sen. Danny Carroll, a retired police officer from Paducah who was “appalled” by the Dallas attacks. He said he was still troubled by an unsolved murder he worked that involved a black businessman, but witnesses did not cooperate with police to identify a suspected killer.

“I think there are going to be some efforts here in Kentucky that kind of update the training with new recruits coming in, maybe as a reaction to what’s going on these days and to make sure that the officers are better prepared when they hit the streets to deal with these issues,” Carroll said.

The makeup of police forces will also take effort, one that Carroll says has been made. Recruiting minority police officers in his former department “was something we battled for years,” he said.

Carroll also placed some blame for the existing climate on media coverage of shootings by police of Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile — whom police said matched the description of a robbery suspect, according to NBC News — in Minnesota.

Ultimately, communication in all situations with help resolve the unease, he said, adding that police and those they encounter need to have personal responsibility for their actions.

“Above all, and I think what some folks fail to remember is these officers are trained to go home at the end of the day, and they respond to situations where their life is in danger constantly, and you don’t really understand what they face until you yourself are in situations where you’re faced with the decision, a split-second decision that can be life and death,” he said.

“If you’re armed and you have a gun on you and you’re fighting with the police and the police see that gun, there’s a good chance that you’re not going to survive that incident,” he added.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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