CBC calls for Congress to ‘combat the state of emergency in the Black community’
[subtitle] Chair warns of ‘long hot summer’ if no action is taken [/subtitle]
By Jane A. Kennedy
Trice Edney News Wire
It was a week that few Americans will be able to forget. On July 5 and 6, respectively, two Black men – Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile in Minnesota – were killed by police officers. Then, on July 7, Micah Johnson, a young African-American man who was reportedly angered by the deaths of Sterling and Castile, fatally shot five Dallas police officers and injured seven others.
“America is weeping. They are angry. They are frustrated. And Congress – and when I say Congress, I mean the Republicans in Congress – are refusing to address gun violence in America,” said CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) at a Friday morning press conference, July 8.
The press conference, called to “combat the state of emergency in Black America”, according to a statement, pushed for “action to repair community trust, an increase in efforts to provide aid for law enforcement training, and the comprehensive implementation of true community policing, including police training and retraining.
While CBC members voiced their unequivocal support for law enforcement and have condemned the killings of the Dallas policemen as “despicable” and “hate-filled,” they were also careful to note that the majority of the 491 Americans killed so far this year by police were Black.
“Republicans, what on Earth are you doing, why are you recoiling and not giving us a debate on gun violence? Why not give it a hearing, give us a debate, give us an up-or-down vote on our legislation on gun violence? Why?” asked an exasperated Butterfield.
Since the mass shooting at an Orlando, Fla, nightclub in June that led to the deaths of 49 people and injured dozens more, House Democrats and Republicans have been engaged in intense and largely fruitless debate about how to respond to the increasing amount of gun violence in the United States.
Democrats are calling for measures that would prohibit criminals and suspected terrorists on no-fly lists from purchasing firearms, ban the sale of military assault-style weapons, and expand mandatory background checks. GOP lawmakers have balked at their proposals, leading Democrats to accuse them of being more beholden to the National Rifle Association than to the American public.
Democrats grew so frustrated in the days following the Orlando shootings that they held an unprecedented sit-in on the House floor for nearly 26 hours, which their Republican colleagues reviled as a publicity stunt. But GOP lawmakers are also at an impasse within their own ranks about how to deal with gun violence, adding to delays on a vote.
After the Dallas shootings, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) shared on the floor his dismay over last week’s gun violence, but did not indicate when or how the chamber would respond legislatively or whether it would at all before the House adjourns this week for its summer recess.
“Every member of this body – every Republican and every Democrat – wants to see less violence. Every member of this body wants a world in which people feel safe regardless of the color of their skin. That’s not how people are feeling these days,” Ryan said after the House took a moment of silence for the Dallas police officers. “Sometimes we disagree passionately on how to get there, but in having this debate, let’s not lose sight of the values that unite us.”
Such sentiments did little to allay the concerns of CBC members, who repeatedly warned of the dangers of congressional inaction.
“The United States is on edge and we have to decide whether we’re going to go over the cliff of gun violence and senseless murders or are going to take a step back to find the space for peace and solidarity,” said Chicago Rep. Robin Kelly, whose hometown is mired in gun violence. “We have to be the leaders in finding the solutions to this gun violence problem. It’s the common-sense gun laws; it is police-community relations. It’s getting more African Americans in the law enforcement field. It’s the state of our communities. What are the root causes? Why are people picking up guns, not books or pens and pencils?”
Kelly, who has introduced legislation with Michigan Rep. Brenda Lawrence that deals with those core issues, said she hasn’t stood up for moments of silence for a long time, because “I feel like we stand up, we sit down and we don’t do anything. It is time to act. And it’s time to act now.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who represents the district in which Sterling lived and died, expressed deep anger and placed the blame for future gun violence squarely on the shoulders of congressional lawmakers.
“If this Congress does not have the guts to lead, then we are responsible for all of the bloodshed on the streets of America, whether it be at the hands of people wearing a uniform or whether it’s at the hands of criminals,” he said.
He also chastised conservatives and Republican politicians who have blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for the Dallas shootings.
“People cannot use Black Lives Matter as a scapegoat,” he said “Those young people came together to protest. You can’t blame them for these incidents happening.”
Richmond and New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries on Thursday hosted an afternoon press conference with other young male CBC members to respond to the shooting deaths of Sterling, Castile, and other Black men. They shared personal experiences and fears related to interactions with law enforcement and said that if not for their positions of power, one of them could become the next gun violence hashtag based on race.
“If we were to take off our suits and our ties, there are many police officers throughout the country that would treat us like lawbreakers simply because of the color of our skin,” Jeffries said, a sentiment echoed by his colleagues. “And if America is not ready to deal with that as a country, we will be finding ourselves here time and time again.”
Civil rights icon John Lewis, who like Kelly became very emotional during the Friday press conference, said that race should not matter and called on Americans to “respect the dignity and the worth of every human being.”
He said, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, if not, we will perish as fools. We have too many guns. There has been too much violence. And we must act.”
In addition to the gun control measures proposed by Democrats, CBC members are calling for a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director Jim Comey.
The CBC is also calling on Congress to stay in session until lawmakers have voted on a “no fly, no buy legislation” and expanded background checks.
Butterfield predicts, “If we fail to act, this will be a long, hot summer.”