Congressional Black Caucus Takes the Floor to Talk About Ferguson and Race in America

“We want a fair, impartial, and color-blind criminal justice system. But if we’re honest with ourselves, that doesn’t exist for all Americans today.”

A protestor stands in front of police vehicles with his hands up during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
Dec. 1, 2014, 3:24 p.m.

Late Monday night, after the House took its fi­nal votes, mem­bers of the Con­gres­sion­al Black Caucus took the floor to speak for about one hour about race in the wake of a grand jury’s de­cision last week not to in­dict po­lice of­ficer Dar­ren Wilson in the Au­gust shoot­ing death of Mi­chael Brown in Fer­guson, Mo.

“Hands up, don’t shoot,” Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries of New York began.

Charles Ran­gel, the long­time New York Demo­crat, fol­lowed Jef­fries and CBC Chair­wo­man Mar­cia Fudge of Ohio to de­ride Amer­ica’s “can­cer” and those who don’t ac­know­ledge it. “Like any­thing else you love, if there’s an ill­ness, if there’s a prob­lem, you would want to know: What can you do to cure it? How can you make it all that our coun­try can be?” Ran­gel said. “How can we say that we have a can­cer un­til we re­cog­nize that we do, then we don’t really love the coun­try? How can we be able to say that white and black in this coun­try are equal and that those who work hard and live by the rules have the same op­por­tun­it­ies as each oth­er, when we know that we have this can­cer?”

Ran­gel went on to ad­dress the idea of re­par­a­tions for slavery, sug­gest­ing that it goes bey­ond money. “Some people may talk about pay­ment for resti­tu­tion for past crimes com­mit­ted against hu­man be­ings,” he said. “But that resti­tu­tion could be the abil­ity to say that we’re go­ing to make cer­tain that people of col­or in this coun­try would be able to have ac­cess to the same type of edu­ca­tion, live where they want to live, com­pete against any­body for the job, and not feel­ing that they’re in­feri­or be­cause people have been taught that just be­cause they have a dif­fer­ent com­plex­ion that they are su­per­i­or.”

Demo­crat­ic Rep. Sheila Jack­son Lee of Texas said that the Amer­ic­an jury sys­tem needs re­form. “I would hope we would look to le­gis­lat­ive fixes with our col­leagues to make Amer­ica bet­ter. The Con­gres­sion­al Black Caucus will not be si­lenced,” she said. “Amer­ica is bet­ter than this, a coun­try that we love…. We must fix it, and we must fix it now.”

Jef­fries sug­ges­ted the same. “We want a fair, im­par­tial, and col­or-blind crim­in­al justice sys­tem. But if we’re hon­est with ourselves, that doesn’t ex­ist for all Amer­ic­ans today. And that un­der­mines the in­teg­rity of our demo­cracy,” he said. “That’s not just a black prob­lem, or a white prob­lem, or a Demo­crat prob­lem, or a Re­pub­lic­an prob­lem. That’s an Amer­ic­an prob­lem.”

Pres­id­ent Obama spent much of Monday meet­ing with act­iv­ists and po­lice to dis­cuss Fer­guson and how to re­spond. On Monday af­ter­noon, Obama an­nounced a pro­gram that would in­crease the use of po­lice body cam­er­as, as well as a plan to clamp down on the trans­fer of mil­it­ary-grade weapons to loc­al po­lice de­part­ments around the coun­try. The CBC mem­bers who spoke Monday night were gen­er­ally sup­port­ive of those steps.

Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., made more spe­cif­ic re­quests, which were enu­mer­ated in a let­ter to the White House, in­clud­ing that the De­part­ment of Justice “de­vel­op the train­ing for law en­force­ment of­ficers to coun­ter­act ra­cial bi­as.”

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