U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Minority lawmakers are calling for broad reforms in the U.S. criminal justice system, following the recent killings of unarmed Black males by police officers.
The deaths of Michael Brown, of Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, of Staten Island, N.Y., and subsequent grand jury decisions to not charge the officers responsible have unleashed a tidal wave of protests across the country.
However, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said the outcry also was a response to more widespread inequality in the justice system.
“I find myself a senator at this time when we have this ironic reality that there are more African-Americans now in prison, under criminal supervision—prison, jail, probation, parole—than all the slaves in 1850,” he said during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on Dec. 9.
Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL),
“And the elected leadership that’s showing this most clearly is not coming from the federal level, it’s actually coming from the states,” he added, as quoted by The Hill.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez said the Brown and Garner cases “expose gaps in our criminal justice system” especially in “the grand jury process and the inherent difficulty in bringing charges against law enforcement,” according to Bloomberg News.
The Illinois Democrat also joined Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), in lambasting the ongoing practice of racial profiling among law enforcement.
“Racial profiling, condoned officially and unofficially by some in law enforcement, forces Blacks and Latinos to contend with the criminal justice system more frequently and in a completely different way than many others in society,” Gutiérrez said.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)
Even he, a congressman, has suffered from such unfair scrutiny, Gutiérrez added, citing an incident while entering the Capitol in 1996.
“I think of when my daughter was stopped because she was driving in ‘too nice a car’ with her friends in her own neighborhood or when I was stopped coming into the Capitol complex earlier in my career because I didn’t ‘look like a Congressman,’” he said.
Such incidents, and the seeming lack of justice in the Brown and Garner cases will undermine confidence in the justice system, Ellison said.
“People have every right to believe that the government is there to protect their general welfare,” the Muslim-American lawmaker said. “When the state violates people’s rights, it’s fair for people to wonder, who’s going to protect my rights if the state will not?”
The Obama administration recently announced millions in funding to outfit police officers with body cameras. The Attorney General this week heeded the civil rights community’s call to issue updated standards on profiling among federal law enforcement.