Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., drew applause Thursday from the National Urban League conference in Baltimore for saying black lives are every bit as important and worthy of commemoration as the lives of the early American settlers, and for noting his public apology for slavery.
"If English lives and history matter, if Spanish lives and history matter, then African-American lives and history ought to matter to us, too," he said to applause Thursday. "African-American history matters because black lives matter."
"As governor of Virginia, I did something that no other governor done: I officially apologized on behalf of the commonwealth of Virginia for slavery," he added. "I've done the same thing as mayor of Richmond. I worked … to plan, fundraise and then construct and unveil a civil rights memorial on our capital grounds."
Kaine, who was tapped last month to be Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's running mate, made his remarks as part of a larger address focused on criminal justice reform and "social justice."
"No matter your race, religion, sex, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation or anything else, everybody in this country should get a fair chance," Kaine said. "Everybody's equal and everybody should be treated that way."
"It starts with facing our history," he added. "I know the wrongs we've made in this country. I know them because I listen. Because of my Spanish fluency … I'm able to listen in two languages."
When the history that has been written has been whitewashed to leave out the profound suffering of folks, what message does that send about the value of your life and your lived experience? That's why the Congressional Black Caucus and I are working together to form a commission to memorialize the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves at Jamestown. We had a federal commission to commemorate the the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the English at Jamestown in 2007. We had a federal commission to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish at St. Augustine, Florida. That was celebrated last year in 2015.
Kaine also decried the current culture of "adversarial zero tolerance" policing strategies. "A profound distance has grown up between law enforcement and communities and that distance is dangerous," he said.
He added that there should be a greater investment in training designed to de-escalate police encounters.
"We believe in second chances in this country. We just don't have the policies in place to facilitate," he said.
Kaine's comments on criminal justice reform follow on the heels of both Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., making this issue a main talking point during the Democratic presidential primaries.
The subject of criminal justice reform also got a brief mention during the GOP primaries, as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has long focused on the issue, tried on the campaign trail to generate interest in the discussion. But the topic didn't go far as the GOP primary chose instead to focus more on illegal immigration and national security.
Though much of Kaine's address to the conference in Baltimore was marked by a warm reception, there was a moment when a total silence fell on his audience, and that was when he spoke briefly about GOP nominee Donald Trump. As an aside in his remarks about social justice, Kaine reminded his predominantly black audience that the billionaire businessman and his father were once caught in the 1970s discriminating against African-American renters.