Today, across the country, the American people are rising up in outrage against the torture and murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the ongoing systemic racism that permeates our society.
We know that the murder of George Floyd is just the latest in a seemingly endless series of police killings that take the lives of African-Americans: Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott and so many others that it shocks the mind. When will it end?
The American people are rightly demanding justice and an end to police brutality and murder. And Congress must act. It is my view that:
Every police officer involved in a killing must be held accountable, and those found guilty must be punished with the full force of the law. That includes officers who stand by while these brutal acts take place.
Every single killing of a person by police or while in police custody must be investigated by the Department of Justice.
Police departments must look like the communities they serve and be part of those communities, not be seen as invading, heavily-armed occupying forces.
Police departments that fail to reform should be stripped of federal financial support.
The federal government has to aggressively lead a complete overhaul of policing in this country.
And we need to examine whether the time is now for us to federalize the murder of people by state actors.
There are many important organizations working to advance racial justice in this country. Today I would like to ask you to contribute to a few of them, if you can afford it.
Please split a $5 contribution between the Minnesota Freedom Fund, Movement for Black Lives, Poor People’s Campaign, and Center for Popular Democracy. These groups are doing critical work and could use your support.
As we focus on the issue of police violence and killing, we must also fight to end the many other ways violence is visited on marginalized communities.
Black people face economic violence. In the wealthiest nation on earth, when 40 million Americans live in poverty, incredibly, one out of three African-American children live below the poverty line and too many are trapped in a school-to-prison pipeline.
That economic violence goes further. While tens of millions are working hard every day, with little to show for their labor, over half of African-American workers in this country earn less than $15 an hour. Starvation wages are a form of violence and African-Americans and other communities of color bear the brunt of this plague.
Speaking of plagues, the current COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged Black and Brown communities at far higher rates than white communities both in terms of infection and death. This is on top of the fact that Black and Latino people disproportionately bear the violence of a cruel and dysfunctional health care system that results in the death of some 60,000 Americans each year, because they cannot afford the health care they need.
It is the violence of homelessness where, today, in the midst of the pandemic, millions worry about being forced out of their apartments or homes and joining the 500,000 Americans who are already homeless.
Sadly, these are just some examples because this violence can be seen everywhere in the lives of Black people. So, as we watch Americans all over the country taking to the streets to peacefully protest this violence we must keep in mind the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
“We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”
And speaking of non-violence, I must say that I am deeply saddened as we witness the destruction of stores in neighborhoods who depend upon these shops for their survival. It is the people in those lower-income communities who will be forced to live without access to groceries and other necessities long after the fires are extinguished and the television crews have packed up and gone home. I want to commend those in the community who have courageously tried to keep that destruction from taking place.
In this enormously difficult moment in American history, now is the time to honor George Floyd, and to do everything possible to make sure that his death was not in vain. Now is the time for us to come together, in a non-violent way, to demand justice in America in all respects. Racial Justice. Economic Justice. Social Justice. Environmental Justice.
This week, I will begin discussions with my colleagues and with people from the grassroots about supporting and crafting legislation that begins to dismantle racism in America and creates the kind of nation we can and must become.
Today, I hope you will consider making a contribution to some of the organizations that are working to bring an end to systemic racism.
Let us go forward together. Let us peacefully protest and continue our collective struggle for justice.