Four members of the Congressional Black Caucus, a noted television judge, a former police chief, a top official of a union and a leader of the national movement to help African Americans become first-class citizens recently met to discuss criminal justice issues.
The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, with the support of the Service Employees International Union, sponsored a National Town Hall titled “Black Lives Matter: Ending Racial Profiling, Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration” on Sept. 17 at the Walter A. Washington Convention Center before a crowd of thousands.
U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) participated in the town hall with celebrity Judge Greg Mathis, former Orlando, Fla., Police Chief Val Demings, SEIU leader Alphonso Mayfield and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, with News One talk show host Roland Martin as the moderator.
Butterfield, who serves as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that the town hall addresses a timely topic that Black America is dealing with.
“We are here today to say that the criminal justice system in America is broken and needs to be fixed,” he said. “We are not organizing for rhetoric. We are organizing for action.”
The town hall is a part of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 45th Annual Legislative Conference that will feature over 70 issue forums and braintrusts and other social events that will end on Sept. 20.
Jeffries said that the deaths of African Americans such as Trayon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray highlight the need for a robust discussion on how the criminal justice system negatively affects people of color.
“We are in a battle for the well-being of our communities,” Jeffries said. “We are confronting such problems as police brutality and a prison-industrial complex. We are making it clear in the streets and in the suites that Black Lives Matter.”
Garza said that her movement is substantive.
“Black Lives Matter is not just a hashtag,” Garza said. “We are fighting state-sanctioned efforts against Black people. We are not just for reforming the criminal justice system but also want to improve education and job opportunities for Black people and stop police brutality.”
Garza said that her organization is working for change peacefully and politically on the local and state levels. Contrary to what has been reported by some commentators on Fox News, she said “we are not a hate or terrorist group.”
“We have met as a caucus and individually with members of the Black Lives Matter movement,” the representative said. “It is a serious movement and it will stay until it gets the job done.”
Cummings said that the Black Lives Matter movement played a positive role in the recent uprising in Baltimore and that it is viewed as a powerful force in his city.
“Black Lives Matter has turned pain into passion and purpose,” Cummings said. “They have turned protest into policy.”
One of the policies that Black Lives Matter is advocating is the disciplining and prosecution of rogue police officers. Demings supports that contention.
“Evil only happens when good people sit back and are silent,” Demings said. “It is time for good police officers to stand up and call out bad officers. Bad officers make it bad for everyone and good police officers are excited about Black Lives Matter.”
Mathis said that legislation requiring police body cameras in many states and municipalities are an example of the organization’s effectiveness.
The panelists offered solutions to counter the harsher aspects of the criminal justice system. Mathis said that people need to divest their personal funds from corporations that profit off of cheap prison labor.
Jackson Lee agreed with Mathis on divesting from corporations that support prison labor and added that the U.S. Department of Justice needs to prosecute civil rights case more vigorously.
Mayfield said that Blacks being mistreated by law enforcement officials “happens every day” and a floundering education system, homelessness and high Black unemployment interlock with an insensitive criminal justice system.
One of the criticisms of the Black Lives Matter movement is that it should be more inclusive or embrace the all lives matter mantra. Garza said that all lives do matter—but that slogan and philosophy would negate the concerns of Black people.
“All lives matter wouldn’t deal with 15 Blacks transgender have been killed in recent years,” she said. “All lives matter would not address that Black women make less than White women who make less than White men. All lives matter is a distraction and we will fight like hell for Black lives.”