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.”