Former vice president Joe Biden rebutted criticism from Sen. Kamala Harris of his record on civil rights at an event Friday in Chicago hosted by Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
JOE BIDEN: Look, before I start I'd like to say something about the debate we had last night. I heard and I listened to and I respect Sen. Harris, but we all know that 30 seconds or 60 seconds during a campaign debate exchange can't do justice to a lifetime committed to civil rights. I want to be absolutely clear about my record and position on racial justice, including bussing. I never, never, never opposed voluntary busing and the program that Sen. Harris participated in and made a difference in her life.
I did support federal action to address root causes of segregation in our schools and our communities, including taking on the banks and red-lining and trying to change the way in which neighborhoods were segregated. I've always supported using federal authority to overcome state-initiated segregation, in fact, I cast the deciding vote in 1974 against an amendment called the Gurney Amendment, which would have banned the right of the federal courts to be able to use busing as a remedy. Now you might guess in the middle of the most expensive busing program in the country in my city and my state, it wasn't the most popular vote at the time. So Rev. Jackson, we've spent a lot of time working together over the years, on a lot of issues that matter, but I know and you know, I fought my heart out to ensure that civil rights and voting rights, equal rights are enforced everywhere.
These rights are not up to the states to decide, they are the federal government's issue to decide. It is a Constitutional issue to protect the civil rights of every single American. And that's always been my position and so that's why I ran for federal office in the first place. As Rev. Jackson may be one of the few people who knows, my city was the only city after Dr. King was assassinated that was almost entirely burned to the ground. 20% of it. The only city in the United States of America since Reconstruction that was occupied by the National Guard with drawn bayonets on almost every corner for ten months.
I came home from law school that year, and I only had two political heroes, Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, and they were both assassinated the year I graduated. And I came home and I had a job at one of the oldest law firms at the state, a prestigious firm, and after five months I decided I couldn't do it, and I ended up leaving and becoming a public defender. And when I was elected, one of the first things I did was go on the committee to try to strengthen the Voting Rights Act. I co-sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment. I supported making the Equity Act in law. I voted for the Civil Rights Act in 1990 to ban employment discrimination. I wrote the provision of the law that allows the Attorney General to pursue cases involving "a pattern of conduct of law enforcement officers in violation of Constitutional and federal rights."
I write that law, and I used that power during the Obama/Biden administration when our Department of Justice investigated police discrimination, including Ferguson. By the way, we worked like a devil to make sure you should not allow police departments to buy excess military vehicles, you don't go into a neighborhood and police in an armored humvee or personnel carrier.