On April 6, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) held a panel discussion called “Civil Rights Under the Trump Administration – The First 100 Days.” The panel consisted of civil rights leaders, activists and government officials. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the House’s Committee on the Judiciary, said there is concern in the country about the direction of the Trump administration’s civil and human rights policies.
“Minority communities are justifiably concerned,” Conyers, considered the dean of the House because he is its longest tenured member, said to an audience of 35 people on Capitol Hill.
“There are heightened national divisions and anxiety.”
The purpose of the forum was to look into the actions of the Trump administration regarding civil rights since the president’s swearing-in on Jan. 20 and discuss proactive strategies to deal with the situation.
Conyers noted that the 2016 presidential campaign had racial overtones. During the campaign, some of the actions and sentiments that stand out are Trump calling for a ban on immigrants from several majority Muslim countries, promising to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Central and South American countries, insulting a Latino federal judge, and marginalizing Black concerns about police practices.
Conyers said that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ effort to review police consent decrees designed to help Blacks get justice in cities like Baltimore and Chicago suggested Session had a covert plan to rollback voting rights enforcement. Even agencies like the EPA could be harmed by the Trump administration’s lack of civil rights embrace, Conyers said.
“Seventy-eight percent of the EPA’s Environmental Justice office will be cut under the president’s budget,” Conyers said. “His budget will also cut workplace and employment discrimination offices across the federal government.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) co-chaired the forum with Conyers.
“Elections do have consequences,” Scott, the leading Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Development Committee, said. He said the Trump administration is working to allow Texas to reinstate its tough voter identification law and is working to water down the rights of transgender individuals.
Panelist Catherine Lhamon, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said, “Seventy-six days in this harrowing administration has inflicted specific actions that have visited affirmative harm on America.”
Another panelist was Roy Austin, the deputy assistant to President Obama and director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, who was blunt in assessing Trump’s civil rights direction.
“The greatest threat to civil rights is this current administration,” Austin said. “They are making it easy to violate civil rights. We have a president that has called on a Muslim ban and this is the first time you have state-endorsed discrimination against a faith.”
Austin noted that the large cuts to programs in the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development will have a devastating effect on Blacks and that the president’s recent brief meeting with HBCU college presidents was shallow.”That was an overrated photo-op,” Austin said. “Black college students are having a hard time paying their tuition and bills and trying to study and you are playing with their leaders.”
Trump has cut the COPS program and that is the wrong direction to go in, said Ron Davis, who served as the director of the Justice Department’s COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program in the Obama administration.”Crime levels have gotten to their lowest since the 1950s,” Davis said. “Advancements have been tremendous in terms of training officers. People should not be afraid of their police.”
Noting that Sessions supports “the stop and frisk” tactics used by police, the “War on Drugs” that was a failure, and that the Trump budget will shut down programs such as implicit bias training for police officers, Davis said that America is at the dawn of a new civil rights movement. “The rights we gained 50-60 years ago are at risk,” Davis said.