Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) descended on the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday with a message: Investigate police killings of unarmed Black men, women, and children.
“Enough is enough,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), the chair of the caucus, said outside the Justice Department’s headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C.
The CBC demonstration comes after the recent police shooting deaths of Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio; Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, coupled with two nights of protests in Charlotte that reportedly left a man on mechanical support.
“One is too many,” Butterfield told reporters, as he was flanked by his CBC colleagues, including Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), an icon of the civil rights movement. “Tensions are very high in communities of color.”
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Butterfield called for action from state and federal authorities and for the executive and legislative branches to put the “full weight of the federal government behind the elimination of unlawful police shootings.”
“There must be a national standard regarding the use of lethal force,” he continued. “Body cameras and other technology must be required to depict the events surrounding a police encounter. We must have better training for police officers and identify and remove those officers with a propensity to overreact in situations. And, the Department of Justice must aggressively pursue investigations, indictments, and yes, prosecutions against any and all law enforcement officers who harm or kill innocent, unarmed African-American citizens.”
Butterfield and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) planned to deliver a letter with their demands to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“You may be wondering why the Black Caucus made the decision to come here today given that these killings and these shootings have been going on for so long,” Waters said. She named victims in “recent times”—Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile, ending the procession of the dead with King, Crutcher, and Lamont Scott in the past two weeks.
“The killing of unarmed Black men and women by police is a crisis,” she said. “It is an emergency. And it has not just affected those victims and families of those who were killed, it has affected every Black man and woman who wonders when they or someone they know will be killed next.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) expressed frustration that pending and even passed bills, including those with Republican support, have yet to yield tangible results.
Scott pointed to implementation delays associated with the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which became law in 2014 and would require the Justice Department to collect all data on such deaths. He said the bipartisan SAFE Justice Act, introduced in 2015, “includes training for police officers: implicit bias, de-escalation, how to avoid profiling,” but the bill remains pending in the GOP-held U.S. House of Representatives.
“There are specific things that we can do,” Scott said. “A lot of it has bipartisan support. But we just have to take action.”
The same day, however, some Republicans made dismissive or divisive comments about police violence against people of color.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) didn’t have an opinion on GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposed stop-and-frisk policy centered on racial profiling. A 2013 court ruling found the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy to be an unconstitutional “policy of indirect racial profiling.”
“I haven’t given enough thought to it,” Ryan said during his weekly press conference, pivoting to the issue of stopping “homegrown jihadists.”
When pressed on his candidate’s position, Ryan punted the question to House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who was not present at the press conference.
“I don’t have an answer for you because it’s not something that I have familiarized myself with, the constitutionality of it, it’s efficacy, whether it worked well in New York City or not,” Ryan said. “That’s just—that’s my point.”
BuzzFeed reported that Rep. Steve King (R-IA), notorious for his long history of racially charged comments and insistence on displaying a Confederate flag on his congressional office desk, on Thursday called the CBC the “self-segregating caucus.”
Ryan’s and King’s latest comments notwithstanding, CBC members credited Republicans for partnering on efforts such as the bipartisan House working group on police-community relationships, led by Goodlatte and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) said the group would meet again Thursday afternoon.
“But here is the answer to, ‘Have Republicans done something?’ We have the ability to do something by passing the legislation on the floor of the House,” Jackson Lee said.