Valerie Jarrett: Watching Laquan McDonald video was like a 'poker in my stomach'

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Many Chicagoans were shocked by a video showing a white cop shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. For senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, who grew up in and started her career in the city, it was no different.

"I've seen it several times, and each time I've seen it, it's like a poker in my stomach," Jarrett told Fusion's Alicia Menendez in a Facebook Live interview Friday, the first ever conducted at the White House. "That just shouldn't happen in America."

Jarrett spoke about police violence, gun control, and mass incarceration in the wide-ranging interview. She said criminal justice reform was a "top priority" for the president and that she was optimistic that reforms would be passed in Congress to reduce mandatory-minimum sentences for drug offenders.


"In this town, as you know, it's really hard to find issues where both sides of the aisle can come together, but this is one," she said.

She said education, job training, and drug treatment programs were needed for inmates. "Incarceration alone doesn't solve those kind of problems," she said.

And asked about the 35,000 nonviolent drug offenders who have applied for a presidential clemency—including some serving life sentences for first-time offenses—Jarrett said President Obama wanted to "unclog that system."

"It's certainly something that he's been working on with our attorney general," she said.


Without going into specifics, she promised more action from the president on gun control executive actions in "short order."

"My grandfather was killed with his own gun when burglars broke into his own office," Jarrett said. "I know firsthand how it feels to lose a family member to gun violence."


And while Jarrett stressed respect for police officers, she also said protesters who have spoken out about police brutality play a critical role.

"I think you need leadership from the top," she said. "But you also need people on the ground who help fuel that process for change."


Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.

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