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Ben & Jerry’s Founders: ‘White people need to take responsibility’ to change racial injustice in America

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Co-Founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield join Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to break down their response to the Capitol riot fallout.

Video Transcript

- As we've been discussing, a lot of corporations have decided to wade into the political spectrum. And one company that is no stranger to doing this is the ice cream company, Ben & Jerry's. So, it's my pleasure to welcome Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream here with us now. Thank you both for joining us.

You know, Ben & Jerry's came out with a very forceful statement after the Capitol was breached by rioters less than a week ago. It's hard to believe it's been less than a week. I'm not going to read the whole thing, but I do want to read a part of it. It says in part, "Yesterday was not a protest, it was a riot to uphold white supremacy. The white mob that made its way to the dais of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate, literally sitting in the chair the vice president had been in moments before, is the ultimate embodiment of white privilege.

Both of these Americas is us. Black and Brown people have long understood this. They've been exposed to white tyranny that was on full display at yesterday's riot since the founding of our nation. It's a double standard that under girds white supremacy in our nation."

Ben & Jerry's in that statement then called on the president to either be removed or to resign. Now, Ben & Jerry's has been wading into the political and social justice sphere for a while. So, this surprise shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone, this statement. I'm wondering, from you both, what makes responding to these issues and promoting social justice so important to you both and also to Ben & Jerry's the company?

BEN COHEN: I think justice has always been a passion for Jerry and myself. As I hope it is for most Americans, most people. I mean, I think justice was a passion of Jesus Christ. I think, you know, what was clear to me, you know, the amazing thing about, you know, that riot was that I was in DC for the protests for the murder of George Floyd.

And-- you know-- the heavy, huge army of police, and National Guard, and who knows who else was-- you know, just overwhelming. And it's clear to me that if Black people had been trying to assault the Capitol, they would have been shot. They would have been killed. There would have been a lot of people dead.

And yes, there is a double standard. There is white supremacy in our culture, in our institutions. And, you know, as the company said when the George-- when George Floyd was murdered, we must dismantle white supremacy and we have to understand that this is a white problem. This is not a Black problem. This is a problem of us.

And, you know, I mean, I know-- I've tried to jaywalk across the street with a Black friend and he said, "Oh no. We can't do that. I'll get arrested." And-- it's just two different Americas and we need to change it. We, white people, need to take responsibility to change it.

- So, Jerry, you know, we hear Ben talking about something that I want you to pick up on, the difference. And it's not lost on Black folks, it's not lost on other journalists who have covered events like Ferguson. The stark difference in policing of what we saw during these riots and what we've seen, as you were mentioning, Ben, those Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the course of the last several months. I'm wondering, as you mentioned, white supremacy being a part of every institution that we have here in the United States, at least on this part of policing, how important criminal justice reform is going to be going forward.

Especially as we hear, you know, these rumors and these allegations that there frankly were some police members as a part of those riots. That there was off duty cops that were some rioters. You know, some of those allegations. How much do you see criminal justice reform as being a necessary piece?

JERRY GREENFIELD: It's absolutely essential. And I think we need to start with accountability for police. You know, there are essential functions that police perform and that is a wonderful thing. But, there's often times when police are not operating at their best, let's say it that way. And quite simply, there is no accountability for police.

And we're not going to have trust between communities and police until police start having some accountability. You know, it's-- nobody in the corporate world would exist if there wasn't accountability for us in our jobs. And yet, for police, there is a legal doctrine called, qualified immunity, which essentially shields them from accountability. And when we look at police reform coming up, ending qualified immunity needs to be part of what we do.

BEN COHEN: Yeah, I mean--

- I want to throw this to both of you. I just-- sorry. Sorry to interrupt, Ben. I just want to get as many questions as we possibly can in this time. But I want to ask you about that corporate social responsibility.

Because, a lot of folks think that it's not good business, you know, for companies to really wade into political issues, to wade into issues around social justice. I'm wondering what you think corporate responsibility needs to be in times like this. And if you think that being progressive on social justice issues is bad for business.

BEN COHEN: It certainly hasn't been bad for our business. I mean, we're talking about standing up for justice. We're talking about seeing to it that when police brutalize or unjustifiably kill someone, that they're held accountable. Americans want that to happen.

The police represent us. They are paid for-- by you and me. You know, it's with our money and it's in our name that we allow the police to use lethal force in our name. And if we cannot hold them accountable, the only entity in our country that we allow to use lethal force in our name domestically, we're shirking our responsibility.

We need to hold them accountable, and this doctrine called qualified immunity essentially is a get out of jail free card. What it says is that, if there has not been a police officer who has been convicted of exactly the same crime in exactly the same jurisdiction, that if some other police officer does something, they don't get convicted because there's no precedent. That's absurd.

I mean, the Supreme Court has specifically told judges, disregard constitutional violations, disregard civil rights violations, disregard violations of the law. If there's no precedent for some police officer having done that before and been convicted, throw the case out. That's absurd.

JERRY GREENFIELD: You know, I think--

- I wish I had-- no, no. Go ahead, Jerry. Would love to hear your thoughts.

JERRY GREENFIELD: I was going to say, you know, after the George Floyd murder, there was an outcry and a real energy to change things, to have serious reform to law enforcement and to policing. And we can't let that momentum pass just because it was a few months ago. It's just too easy for people to go back to their way of living and think, oh, everything is fine.

But the fact is, we can't return to the status quo and we need to maintain this momentum. We need to have real police reform and we need to start with ending qualified immunity.

- All right. I wish I had another 30 more minutes to chat with you both. There's so much to get into here. So, hopefully, you both will be able to join us again in the future. Ben Cohen, Jerry Greenfield, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream co-founders. Thank you both so much for joining us today.

JERRY GREENFIELD: Thank you.

BEN COHEN: Good talking with you.