Over 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson created a commission to carefully study the riots, police brutality, and deaths of 1967. Tragically, the conclusions of the Kerner Commission still ring true today: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” The Kerner Report laid out a series of broad ranging structural changes, ranging from real accountability for police officers, to major investments in housing and jobs, to making public education truly equal so that all have real opportunity. We need those changes now.
I am angered that the reform we so desperately need is either ignored or trivialized by some members of Congress. The President’s words and actions directly resulted in police attacking peaceful protesters so he could get a photo op holding a bible at St. John’s church. Mariann E. Budde, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington who oversees that church said, “The president just used a Bible and one of the churches of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus… I just can’t believe what my eyes are seeing.”
We, as a nation, have not fulfilled our responsibility to end the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. I mourn the loss of George Floyd, of Ahmaud Arbery, of Breonna Taylor – and of the countless other Americans that have been lost to injustice and racism. I have worked all my life to end structural inequality and make justice for all a reality, and I will continue the fight to end violence against African Americans and all people of color – now.
I support the Justice in Policing Bill – HR 7120 – introduced on June 8 in the US House. Its provisions focus on accountability, training, reasserting the separation of the military and domestic police, and prohibiting chokeholds and no-knock warrants. It mandates that federal officers attempt de-escalation first and use deadly force only as a last resort, and it conditions federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies on the adoption of those same policies. It gives more power to the Department of Justice to investigate patterns of bias. It requires federal police to use dashboard and body cameras.
Steps like this bill must be coupled with increasing real economic opportunity, as the national reports 50 years ago recommended. That can be done by dealing with housing and workplace discrimination, redressing antiquated redlining practices, and addressing systematically underfunded public education. What we need is specific, concrete action. HR 7120 is a start, but we need much more.