The causes and effects of the lack of accountability and trust between black citizens and white law enforcement officials loomed as the major topic Thursday at Congressional Black Caucus’s National Town Hall Meeting.
The meeting at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in northwest D.C. shed light on the unaccountable police brutality, extended prison sentences for nonviolent crimes, the need for current voters to be politically aware and issues concerning what may come during the next presidential administration.
April Ryan, White House correspondent and bureau chief of the American Urban Radio Network, moderated the town hall meeting, sharing her perspective on what is at stake.
“Just last night we heard about another 13-year-old boy killed by a police officer in Ohio,” she said. “We have children as young as preschool being suspended from school, we have issues of health care, we have judges that cannot get a confirmation hearing, we have high incarceration rates. And so, we have a lot at stake.”
The “Black Lives Matters” movement was a hot-button topic during the panel.
Melina Abdullah, town hall panelist and professor and chair of the Pan-African studies department at California State University, talked of the various ways that black people still experience oppression in the United States.
“When we talk about black lives matter, what we’re doing is acknowledging the positioning of black people,” she said. “We black people find ourselves at the bottom of every social, economic and political measure, so we are absolutely the second wave of lynching that we are facing, where black people are killed more now than the first wave of the lynching era.
“And so, when we say black lives matter, we are talking about a condition that black people still face in an America, that is still extremely racist and oppressive,” Abdullah said. “So we don’t have to address it. We don’t have to say every life matters. Of course, that is a given. What the history of this country is, is that black lives have not mattered.”
Brittany Packnett, vice president of the National Community Alliances, also shared her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement and the dire need for police reform.
“What I think is critically important is that we do not let people off of the hook in talking simply about trust,” she said. “People want to just talk about relationships and community-police relations, as if you handing me an ice cream cone is going to save my life. Ice cream is nice, not killing us is better.”
“I will trust you, when you treat me like a human being, when you are trained in certain ways and when you are accountable for your actions,” she said.
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, called for reform within the criminal justice system, noting how Obama has had to commute more than 673 inmates.
“Right now, both the House and the Senate are taking up legislation that will reduce mandatory sentences,” she said. “It does not end mass incarceration, but it is a step in the right direction.”
Additional panelists at the town hall meeting included Rep. Bobby Scott, economist and writer Julianne Malveaux, National Urban League President Marc Morial, Service Employees International Union President LaTanja Silvester and Jahmal Miller, deputy director of the Office of Health Equity in the California Department of Public Health.