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Environmental Injustice Is Another Form of ‘Assault on Black Bodies,’ Says Sen. Cory Booker

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Senator Cory Booker said you can’t address climate justice without considering race and that environmental injustice is yet another form of “assault on Black bodies” in addition to the disproportionate effects of police brutality.

“We still live in a nation where so many Americans are suffering with environmental injustice but the biggest determining factor of whether you live around toxicity — whether you drink dirty water, whether you breathe dirty air — is the color of your skin,” Booker said in a TIME 100 Talks discussion with TIME correspondent Justin Worland. He added that “the environmental movement has to become a lot more diverse than it is.”

Booker spoke about contaminated drinking water, food deserts, safety concerns for workers in the meatpacking industry — which have come to the forefront during the coronavirus pandemic — as well as the importance of empowering local independent farmers instead of putting all the power in the hands of powerful multinational corporations. These farmers are being “driven out of business at astonishing rates,” he said.

Booker said climate is not a federal priority, particularly as many Republicans on a national level continue to deny that there is in fact a climate crisis. “It’s very hard to deal with a problem if you won’t even name it,” he said.

In general, by failing to prioritize solutions on the front-end, taxpayers end up footing a larger bill on the back-end in the form of emergency room visits and arrests that land people in prison, he notes.

Still, Booker remains hopeful. He said he hopes America can “turn a corner” in its approach to climate justice and that local ideas from local leaders are scaled up to create healthier ecosystems.

Booker also spoke about the importance of expanding voting rights and making voting easier, especially during the current pandemic. He said it’s “outrageous” that people are being forced to choose between their health or their right to vote. He said it’s unfortunate that everything from voting to wearing a mask has become politicized.

Booker also said he is confident that his police reform bill, which aims to expand accountability and transparency, will be successful. He said the pillars of the bill include measures supported by Republicans, including a ban on the no-knock warrant that led to the death of Breonna Taylor, as well as the chokehold that led to the death of Eric Garner.

This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com