TIME 100 Talks
June 9, 2020 1:47 PM EDT

Valerie Jarrett said the protests throughout the country in the wake of George Floyd’s killing have “shone a light” on issues between police and communities of color. But President Barack Obama’s former senior advisor said she does not support defunding police departments, which has become a rallying cry for many activists.

“Democracy depends upon having law enforcement,” Jarrett said as part of the TIME100 Talks, when asked if she supports defunding the police. “The challenge here is that much of our law enforcement we know is not just.” Jarrett said she thinks that mayors and city councils should re-evaluate their budgets each year. “I might argue you might need more money for law enforcement— in recruitment, and training, adding equipment, maybe body cameras, other types of resources that are available so that the public can see what’s going on,” she said.

“The question is are we really using our law enforcement in a way that is fair and just, and that builds this bond of trust?” Jarrett continued. “And I think that’s a much more complicated question than simply should we cut their funding or not.”

During Obama’s presidency, the Justice Department instituted certain reforms to hold police departments accountable for systemic abuses, including increasing the use of pattern-or-practice investigations— which can root out systemic problems beyond the conduct of individual officers— and consent decrees, which can result from those investigations and are agreements to reform that are overseen by the courts. President Donald Trump’s DOJ has largely walked away from those, and Jarrett said the federal government should return to these practices. She also argued that “the criminal justice system writ large is unjust, so it isn’t just the policing where we have a breakdown.” She cited bail reform and increased flexibility in sentencing guidelines as other areas she’d like to see improvement.

As these issues of policing and systemic racism in the United States dominate the news less than six months before the presidential election, Jarrett said she “cannot be more supportive” of former Vice President Joe Biden’s candidacy. But she also acknowledged some baggage from his long political career when asked about his role in writing the 1994 crime bill, which critics say led to mass incarceration and exacerbated many of the criminal justice problems in the country today. “I’m sure that there are parts of the crime bill with the advantage of hindsight that Vice President Biden wouldn’t support today,” Jarrett said.

Biden has pledged to choose a woman as his running-mate, and he’s facing increasing calls to choose an African American woman. Jarrett said she won’t weigh in on the pick in order to “leave it up to him totally” to decide. “He has an embarrassment of riches of women from which to choose, including some really well qualified African American women,” Jarrett said.

Overall, Jarrett said the mass protests in recent days have been “heartening,” though she said there is still “a long way to go.”

“The question is to whether this is an inflection point simply, or is it actually a turning point for long-term systemic change?” Jarrett said. “I think I am more optimistic today than I’ve been in a very long time.”

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.

Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.berenson@time.com and Molly Ball at molly.ball@time.com.

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