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• Warnock used the word “thugs” in a 2015 sermon. He was specifically referring to police in Ferguson, Missouri, not police generally.
• As a senator, Warnock sponsored a bill to help small police departments hire and keep officers. He also voted for the American Rescue Plan, which provided billions of dollars to states and local jurisdictions to invest in police departments and other efforts to secure communities.
In Georgia’s high-profile Senate race, Republican Herschel Walker is airing an ad in which he looks directly into the camera and criticizes his opponent, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
The ad opens with a series of short clips of news anchors narrating crime stories, followed by a narrator telling viewers, "The Democrats’ answer to rising crime? Defund the police. Put criminals ahead of victims."
Then, Walker appears, telling viewers, "Raphael Warnock called police thugs, then cut their funding. Now he wants to end cash bail, putting criminals back out on the street. I'm Herschel Walker. I approved this message because stopping crime starts by keeping bad guys in jail."
We found that Walker’s assertion that Warnock "called police thugs, then cut their funding" is misleading. Walker’s campaign did not respond to inquiries for this article.
This appears to refer to remarks Warnock made in a sermon on March 8, 2015, when he was pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He gave the sermon about seven months after police shot and killed an unarmed Black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, an event that led to widespread local protests, some of which turned violent.
Warnock’s sermon came days after the Justice Department declined to prosecute the officer who shot Brown. The department issued a report highly critical of how officials ran the local police and government, including an elaborate system of fines and penalties that disproportionately affected low-income Black residents.
The sermon also came one day after the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," in which law enforcement officers beat marchers who were peacefully advocating for voting rights while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The confrontation is considered one of the key turning points of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Warnock’s sermon expounded on the differences between God’s power and man’s, periodically circling back to both Selma and Ferguson. He urged congregants to read the Justice Department report on Ferguson, saying it showed how ordinary Ferguson residents were forced to carry the weight of the criminal justice system by having to pay fines and penalties they had no realistic chance of paying.
This enforcement of spiraling penalties on poor and mostly Black residents prompted Warnock’s "thug" comments, as he equated the baton beatings on the Pettus bridge with the lower-profile but grinding injustices of Ferguson.
"And as they gathered in Selma — or was it Ferguson?" Warnock said at one point. "They were met with overwhelming brute force. The truth of the matter is, the road to Ferguson goes through Selma, 50 years later."
Warnock went on to say, "So, in Ferguson, police power (is) showing up in a kind of gangster and thug mentality. You can wear all kinds of colors and be a thug. You can sometimes wear the colors of the state and behave like a thug."
The bottom line is that Warnock used the word "thug" to describe certain specific police behaviors, evoking police violence in Selma and referencing police practices in Ferguson.
We found no evidence that Warnock has sought to cut police funding.
The way Walker phrased his ad is also misleading. It gives the impression that Warnock cut police funding right after calling police "thugs."
However, Warnock’s sermon was in 2015; he assumed his first elected office in the Senate in January 2021.
Warnock’s campaign argued that the senator had done the opposite of what Walker claimed. His staff pointed to his co-sponsorship of the Invest to Protect Act, a measure passed unanimously by the Senate that seeks to help small law enforcement agencies with training, equipment, mental health support, officer recruitment and retention. A companion bill in the House also passed, but the two measures have not yet been reconciled.
More broadly, the Biden administration has emphasized that it supports full funding for law enforcement. The American Rescue Plan, which he signed into law in March 2021, provided $350 billion that cities, states and counties can use to hire police and invest in community violence interruption. (Critics have falsely claimed that President Joe Biden supports defunding the police.)
A September 2022 analysis by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit that seeks a more "humane justice system," found that billions of dollars flowed from the American Rescue Plan to the criminal justice system through the first quarter of 2022, "from covering payroll to purchasing new equipment."
The group found that government entities have so far allocated $101 billion of the total $350 billion, and about a quarter of that has gone to police, courts, and corrections.
Warnock, like every Senate Democrat, voted in favor of the American Rescue Plan.
Walker said that Warnock "called police thugs, then cut their funding."
Warnock, in a sermon, said police in Ferguson were manifesting their power in thuggish behavior. He was referring to a Justice Department report that said Ferguson police disproportionately targeted Black people with fines and penalties. Warnock in his sermon also referred to police violence in Selma in 1965. Warnock did not apply the word "thugs" to all police officers.
Meanwhile, Warnock has not "cut" police funding. He sponsored a bill to help small police departments hire and keep officers. He also voted for the American Rescue Plan, which provided billions of dollars to states and local jurisdictions to invest in police departments and other efforts to secure communities.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
Herschel Walker, ad, Sept. 28, 2022
Raphael Warnock, sermon, March 8, 2015
Congress.gov, "S. 3860: Invest to Protect Act of 2022"
Congress.gov, "H.R. 6448: Invest to Protect Act of 2022"
Raphael Warnock, "Senator Reverend Warnock Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Invest in Wellbeing and Training of Police Officers, Keep Communities Safe," March 18, 2022
Raphael Warnock, "Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock Priorities and Leadership: Criminal Justice Reform and Safety," accessed Sept. 29, 2022
Marshall Project, "Rifles, Tasers and Jails: How Cities and States Spent Billions of COVID-19 Relief," Sept. 7, 2022
History.com, "How Selma's 'Bloody Sunday' Became a Turning Point in the Civil Rights Movement," July 18, 2020
Associated Press, "Timeline of events in shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson," August 8, 2019
New York Times, "‘Spend This Money’: Biden Calls on States to Devote Stimulus Funds to Police," May 13, 2022
Washington Post, "Biden stresses police funding, crime prevention in visit to political battleground Pennsylvania," Aug. 30, 2022
Washington Free Beacon, "Georgia Senate Candidate Said Police Behave Like Thugs and Gangsters," Sept. 22, 2020
FactCheck.org, "Fact Check: Ads Link Warnock To Defunding The Police," Nov. 25, 2020
CNN, "Did Warnock call police officers 'gangsters and thugs'"? accessed Sept. 30, 2022
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