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• Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said in a 2019 town hall that he believes today’s criminal justice system is “racist,” and he compared it to Jim Crow laws in the South prior to the civil rights movement.
• Ryan did not single out or even mention the police in relation to Jim Crow laws. His comments broadly addressed criminal laws, prosecutions and sentencing. Ryan’s only mention of policing came when he touted “immersive training” for police.
• Vance’s campaign strongly defended the candidate’s words, saying that police are an integral part of accepted definitions of the justice system.
J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for an open Senate seat in Ohio, said his Democratic opponent has disparaged the police.
"Tim Ryan called police the new Jim Crow, which I think is insulting to Black Americans, but it’s also insulting to the police officers who are keeping communities of all colors safe," Vance said in a Sep. 4 interview with NewsNation, a national cable network.
Vance’s comment appears to refer to remarks the Ohio congressman made in 2019, when running for president. But in that appearance at a town hall, Ryan did not single out or even mention the police in relation to Jim Crow — the system of laws that disempowered Black people in the South and kept the races segregated between the end of Reconstruction and the 1960s.
Ryan instead referred to the entire criminal justice system and specifically mentioned sentencing disparities for people of color.
The 2019 town hall was held at Paine College, a historically Black college in Georgia. The Daily Caller, a conservative publication, recently wrote about an exchange from that event and resurfaced video footage of Ryan’s comments from the event.
At the 2019 event, Ryan said:
"I believe that the current criminal justice system is racist. I believe in my heart that it’s the new Jim Crow, a new version of it. We see it all the time across the board, as I mentioned with crimes like marijuana where you’re gonna have a person of color … five to six times more likely to go to prison … than someone who’s white. And those prison sentences will be 20% longer than-than for a white person."
Ryan’s response was to tweet a 2017 video clip of Vance appearing on CNN, in which Vance said, "There are legitimate concerns that a lot of Black Americans have that they're not treated fairly by some members of the police."
Advocates have long argued that the criminal justice system treats Americans differently, including by race and wealth. And Republicans have at times joined Democrats in seeking to ease racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Earlier this year, the House passed legislation that would eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between drug offenses involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Those disparities have often been blamed for longer sentences for Black defendants than people of other races. More than two-thirds of House Republicans who were voting joined all Democrats in approving the measure. It's awaiting action in the Senate. Its title is the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law, or EQUAL, Act.
In 2018, President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, an overhaul of criminal justice law and procedure. It did not explicitly focus on race, but made changes expected to benefit offenders who are people of color, who make up a disproportionate share of those currently serving or who have served time in prison.
In Ryan’s 2019 comments, his only mention of policing came when he touted "immersive training" for police. He introduced a related bill on that subject in 2019 that was aimed at improving community-police relations, officer safety, decision-making and de-escalation capabilities.
Ryan won backing for the bill from both the NAACP and the Fraternal Order of Police, two groups that are often on opposite sides of policing issues.
The bill attracted 13 co-sponsors, all Democrats, but did not advance in the chamber, and he did not reintroduce it in the current Congress.
Ryan’s spokesperson Izzi Levy said Ryan continues to address the issue of systemic racism affecting many aspects of life, including "how we’re treated in the eyes of the law."
Vance’s campaign strongly defended the candidate’s statement and choice of words. Luke Schroeder, Vance’s spokesperson, said the police are an integral part of definitions of the justice system used by the Department of Justice ("the criminal justice system consists of the police, courts, and corrections") and others.
"Tim Ryan’s slandering of the entire criminal justice system is, by the DOJ’s own definition, a slandering of the police officers who are sworn to protect American communities," Schroeder said. "Ryan made no effort in his comments to differentiate his feelings about the police from his feelings about the system they are a part of."
Vance’s campaign also pointed to a 2020 news release from Ryan’s congressional office that said there is "systemic racism in the American law enforcement and justice system."
"The crux of the systemic racism argument made by Tim Ryan traces a clear line back to Jim Crow and slavery," Schroeder said. "When activists and politicians say there’s systemic racism, they mean that Jim Crow is alive and well today, and they mean that the police are carrying it out."
Schroeder said that "when Tim Ryan, speaking at an HBCU in Georgia, called the ‘criminal justice system’ the ‘new Jim Crow,’ he knew exactly what he was doing."
Vance said, "Tim Ryan called police the new Jim Crow."
Ryan said in a 2019 town hall that he believes today’s criminal justice system is "racist," and he compared it to Jim Crow laws.
Ryan’s remarks addressed criminal laws, prosecutions and sentencing. But he did not mention police specifically in relation to Jim Crow laws. Vance’s comment presented a specific pairing — the police and Jim Crow — that Ryan did not make.
We rate the statement Mostly False.
Update, Sept. 9, 2022: Following publication, Vance’s campaign emailed PolitiFact with additional information. The story has been updated to reflect the campaign’s position. The rating is unchanged.
NewsNation, "Vance: Ryan running ‘disingenuous’ campaign," Sept 4, 2022
J.D. Vance, tweet, June 15, 2022
Tim Ryan, tweet, June 15, 2022
Tim Ryan, remarks at a town hall, 2019
Congress.gov, "H.R. 2329 - Law Enforcement Immersive Training Act of 2019"
Congress.gov, "S. 756 - First Step Act of 2018"
Congress.gov, "H.R.1693 - EQUAL Act of 2021"
Roll call vote on the EQUAL Act of 2021, Sept. 28, 2021
Fraternal Order of Police, "Legislation We Support," accessed Sept. 7, 2022
Tim Ryan, "Congressman Tim Ryan Introduces Law Enforcement Immersive Training Bill," April 16, 2019
J.D. Vance for Senate, "Ohio FOP endorses J.D. Vance for U.S. Senate," July 20, 2022
Email interview with Izzi Levy, spokesperson for the Tim Ryan senate campaign, Sept. 7, 2022
Email interview with Luke Schroeder, spokesperson for J.D. Vance, Sept. 9, 2022
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