Systemic racism has plagued our country for far too long and those that deny it can do so no longer.
Despite the best intentions of many who work within our institutions of public service, education, economic, health care and criminal justice, the outcomes produced by these systems are too often plagued by racial inequalities that we need to confront and fix. These inequalities existed long before the current public health and economic crisis we face, but the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare health and economic disparities that have contributed to higher rates of coronavirus cases and deaths in communities of color. The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have exposed the institutional racism that exists in our criminal justice system and society. Tragically, these stories follow what we have witnessed in other instances for many years, across the country and in Wisconsin.
Today, we are in the midst of the latest chapter in what is a long, American story of racial injustices that have taken far too many black lives. The pain people are expressing with peaceful protests is real. I see it, and I hear the calls for change.
On June 1st – a day that will not be forgotten in our march for racial justice – peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square Park in Washington, D.C. were attacked with excessive force by federal officers to clear the way for President Trump to hold a media photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Before this stunt, as a priest was expelled from the church property, President Trump stood in the Rose Garden and threatened to deploy active duty troops to “dominate” demonstrators protesting police brutality. It’s hard to imagine any other president having the gall to support the attack of peaceful protesters with pepper balls, chemical grenades and smoke bombs, use the Bible as a prop, and threaten the use of our military against Americans exercising their first amendment rights. Donald Trump did it all in an afternoon.
I have grave concerns, which have also been expressed by American military leaders past and present, about President Trump’s threat to invoke the Insurrection Act and weaponize our military against the American people. This is why I have helped introduce legislation, the CIVIL Act, to prevent President Trump from abusing the Insurrection Act. We cannot allow this president, or any other, to use active duty troops to violate the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters calling for the change our nation desperately needs.
I have visited Lafayette Square Park and the new Black Lives Matter plaza in Washington to pay my respect for the memory of the black lives that have been lost, and show my support for the peaceful protesters who will not let these lives be forgotten. I came away inspired to do my part to bring about the racial justice we need in our country.
Last week, I joined a strong and diverse Democratic coalition in Congress who understand that we are experiencing more than a moment in America. We are all called on to build a movement for change. Remaining silent is no longer an option. Each of us must find the courage to stand up, speak out and act.
Together, with leadership from Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and the Congressional Black Caucus, we introduced the Justice in Policing Act – the first-ever bold, comprehensive approach to hold police accountable, change the culture of policing in America and build trust between law enforcement and our communities. This is long overdue and our reforms will fix and improve police training and practices, ensure transparency and accountability, and help address systemic racism and bias to help save lives.
This is an important first step to fix what is wrong, but we have a lot of work to do what we know is right. In addition to changing the culture of policing in America, we need to invest more in people in order to truly make our communities safer. I have long supported making stronger investments in a quality public education for every student, health care for all, affordable housing, job training and apprenticeships to promote greater economic opportunities for workers, and economic development support for entrepreneurs and small businesses. The fact is, we won’t have to spend as much as we do on police and prisons if we do more to fund these investments in lifting people up – providing everyone an equal opportunity to live a safe, healthy and prosperous life.
America has been awoken with the pain of carrying the wounds of racism for too long. But we have also awoken with hope. I see it with the diversity, both racially and generationally, of those peacefully protesting against racial injustice. We can say liberty and justice for all, and we will, but now we all must do the hard work together to make sure everyone can live this American value.