By Jerry Ford II
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times
Hundreds packed the Washington Convention Center as an early crowd witnessed the “Black Lives Matter-Ending Racial Profiling, Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration” National Town hall meeting moderated by NewsOne’s Roland Martin this past week in Washington, D.C. at the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Annual Leadership Conference.
The panel included several heavyweights in the CBC, as current CBC chairman Congressman G.K Butterfield (D-NC); Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD); and Congressman Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY). Also on the panel were TV personality Judge Greg Mathis; Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Movement; Val Demings, former chief of police of Orlando, FL; and Alphonso Mayfield.
The wrongful deaths of African American boys and men, including Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, and vicious hate crimes fueled by racial animus, led to the importance of having this Town Hall. Police brutality, racial injustice and criminal justice reform seemed to be the main focus at the CBC this year, and this event set the tone for things to come.
Martin jumped right into the issue of criminal justice reform, as he talked about the dozen of reform bills that have been passed since the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri.
“We are now seeing body cameras on more police officers across the nation,” said Martin.
The Michael Brown incident has been credited with helping launch the Black Lives Matter Movement, which is why Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Network, was a part of this very important panel discussion.
“African Americans and progressive police are fighting police injustices from within while also attempting to change a culture of racism and a no snitch, police loyalty and replace it with police integrity,” said Garza.
The Black Lives Matter Movement garnered national attention earlier in the year after a group of activists high-jacked a Bernie Sanders rally to demand an immediate refocus of his platform to focus the issue of racial injustice.
Before that incident, Sanders seemed to avoid the topic and only focused on economic inequality, not the issues of racial injustice affecting African Americans.
1 in 4 Black families — and 1 in 3 Black children — live in poverty, while the unemployment rate for African Americans is roughly double that for Whites.
Black Lives Matter activists believe that racial injustice, not just economic inequality, plays the biggest role in the issues impacting African Americans in this country.
“Sometimes you have to put a wrench in the gears of people to get them to listen,” said Garza.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee presented the loudest form of support toward the Movement.
“I’m proud that we (CBC) have used wisdom and have chosen to follow Black Lives Matter,” said Congresswoman Jackson Lee. “It engenders a diverse, generational movement. As we focus on the policy, I believe Black Lives Matter can be the catalyst, just like the Movement that brought about voting and Civil Rights legislation in the ‘60s.”
Judge Greg Mathis, who starred in his own nationally-syndicated court show, also chimed in.
“Let’s put things into historical context,” said Judge Mathis. “The Civil Rights Movement was led by both clergy and students, while those students fought and protest in a way that led to change. This is what Black Lives Matter represents.”
Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Gardner, and Tamir Rice were common names being thrown around by the panelists, as Martin reminded the audience that there has been no action taken, an entire year after Tamir Rice was murdered.
Val Demings was the first Black woman to hold the position of police chief in Orlando, Florida.
“The police are as much a part of the community as your neighbors are,” said Demings.
Demings stated that the best way to connect police with community members is by better educating community members on the complex job and responsibilities of law enforcement.
Others, however, focused on how law enforcement viewed community members, in particularly how members of law enforcement view Black men.
“Black men are viewed as economic commodities,” said Congressman Jeffries. “Democrats and Republicans built a prison industrial complex and then filled it through mass incarceration.”
According to the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact sheet, African Americans make up approximately 13% of the American population, while minorities as a whole make up about 60% of the incarceration population.
According to the Sentencing Project, African Americans make up 12% of the nation’s drug users, but represent 34% of those arrested for drug offenses.
Since the early 1970’s there, has been a 700% increase in the U.S. prison population. Blacks are more likely to spend time in prison for drug related offenses than their White counterparts.
“I do not believe our criminal justice system is broken,” said Garza. “As a matter of fact it is not broken; it is designed to work just as it does today.”
Elijah Cummings, who was a fan-favorite, gave props to Baltimore’s District Attorney Marilyn Mosby for her courageousness in dealing with the Freddie Gray situation.
“We want to be sure that the wheels of justice turn and are not stopped,” said Cummings.
Martin piggy-backed off the comments made by Cummings, by pointing to the voting booths as the answer to the racism being displayed in the criminal justice system.
“Having a Black DA matters,” said Martin. “But that doesn’t happen if Black folks don’t vote.”
This comes weeks after a Republican district attorney in Houston blamed the Black Lives Matter Movement for the brutal killing of Deputy Darren Goforth.
“It’s time for the silent majority in this country to support law enforcement,” said Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson.
Anderson implied that the officer killed by 15 bullets, was only killed because he was a police officer wearing a uniform.
This also comes during the same time that a Texas man was arrested for vandalizing his own car, after calling the police and blaming the vandalism on the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“People around the country are trying to radicalize the movement,” said Judge Mathis. “We know that ‘All Lives Matter’, but we also know that ‘All Lives’ are not equal.”
Martin pointed out that because Black people in Baltimore went out and voted, a new district attorney was elected and has released more African Americans in one year than the previous twenty years combined.
“At every level of government, it is a requirement for activists to fight for the right of Black people to live in our full dignity and our full humanity,” said Martin.
Towards the end of the Town Hall, a question was raised about the fact that Black-on-Black violence had not been addressed. Other panelists answered that White-on-White crime has never been addressed either, and that the issue of Intraracial violence should be addressed.
“People kill the people they are more likely to be around,” said Martin. “Black-on-Black crime is being used as a distraction.”
Everyone on the panel agreed that more discussion needed to be had surrounding these very important issues.