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Public Statements

Congressional Black Caucus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. JACKSON LEE. Let me thank the distinguished gentleman from New York and let me thank our chairperson, the Honorable Marcia Fudge, and all my colleagues that are on the floor tonight to accept the challenge that has been given over the airways by many people.

I want to thank Mr. Jeffries for pointing out--as I stand here as a mother, I would make the argument of a son, of a Black son. I can affirm that any child's life is of great value. In fact, we spent the weekend in Houston reaffirming the value of a child's life.

I want to cite and compliment Bishop James Dixon and Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Pastors Henderson and Nash and Lawson and many other pastors that were there, who obviously joined with so many, including my colleague who is here on the floor of the House, Congressman Al Green. I heard nothing but an affirmation of the value of life.

I'm delighted as a lawyer and as a legislator that you reaffirm that African Americans do not coddle crime of any kind, a crime that happens to be between two African Americans or, in essence, two Caucasians. It is noted, if my facts are correct, that 84 percent of the crimes perpetrated on White Americans are done by White Americans.

Eighty six percent of the crimes done on Black persons, on Black Americans, are done by Black people.

It might be that it speaks again to the isolated, segregated neighborhoods that we travel in, but the one thing, Mr. Speaker, that is unique is that you can count on the fact that those African Americans who perpetrated crimes are incarcerated over and over again at a higher number than any other population in this Nation.

Their lives, the premise of much of what we are discussing tonight--and I would hope that as I finish that it will also be a pleading that we have a discussion on race. Let me just cite these numbers since I started out with the idea of incarceration. Incarceration is not an equal opportunity punishment.

For example, incarceration rates in the United States by race were as follows: 2,468 per 100,000 are Black; 1,038 per 100,000 are Latinos; 409 per 100,000 are White. The United States locks up its Black males at a rate 5.8 times higher than what previously has been known as one of the more racist countries in the world, which is South Africa. Under apartheid in 1993, Black males were only 851 per 100,000. In 2006, Black males were 4,789.

I would say to my colleagues and to the Speaker and to my colleagues here: What are we to think when the scales of justice are unequally balanced?

As my friends have said, it is the pain that we felt at the loss of Trayvon Martin and the simplicity of an arrest and then ultimately, with a Sanford jury in a State trial, that we could not even find with much evidence to prove that there was not enough commonality of cultural connection and that they could not see that something should have valued the loss of an innocent child who simply was walking to get home.

Maybe it is the words of Frederick Douglass that he said on April 16, 1883:

It is a real calamity in this country for any man, guilty or not guilty, to be accused of a crime. We are all upset when that happens--guilty or not guilty, perpetrator or not--but it is an incomparably greater calamity for any colored man to be so accused. Justice is often painted with bandaged eyes. She is described in forensic eloquence as utterly blind to wealth or poverty, high or low, White or Black; but a mass of iron, however thick, could never blind American justice when a Black man happens to be on trial.

I would say to my colleagues that that is something we have to move beyond in America.

In an E.J. Dionne article, he said:

The dignity and grace of Trayvon Martin's family should inspire all of us to keep our eyes on the future. We should not blind ourselves either to the persistence of racism or to our triumphs in pushing it back.

It does not help when those who are not like those of us who are on the floor--members of the Congressional Black Caucus--want to push back and call those of us who raise questions of justice--which, by the way, if you impact and correct the criminal justice system, you're going to impact Whites and Latinos, and you're going to impact African Americans. If you address the question of mandatory minimums, if you address the question of rehabilitation funding, if you address the question of providing housing and opportunity for work for those who have come out of prison--no matter from where they come out, the Federal system or, in fact, the State system--you make it better for all. But every time we raise the question of improving issues of justice, we get called or get labeled as being racist.

So I want to say to America and to our friends: Can we not be called ``Americans''? Because that is what the Congressional Black Caucus stands for.

In 1997, John Hope Franklin finished a report that called itself ``One America in the 21st Century: Forging a New Future.'' I will read one sentence:

America's greatest promise in the 21st century--which we're in right now--lies in our ability to harness the strength of our racial diversity.

We have not done that, and that is why the Congressional Black Caucus is here on the floor of the House to be able to accept the challenge that the President made as he indicated to America, unabashedly and without fear: that it's not only that Trayvon may have been my son, but that he may have been me.

The President said something very powerful. He said that we must, all of us--Members of Congress and Governors and pastors and plain civilians and young people--do some soul searching, and that we must as families and churches and workplaces find the possibility of being a little bit more honest and at least ask yourself your own questions: Am I ringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can based not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character? That, I would think, would be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

So tonight, Mr. Speaker, in joining with my colleagues, I'm going to stand unabashedly and ask for that kind of discussion. I want it for those who were standing on the street corners yesterday in Houston, Texas, shouting out that people were racist because they were concerned about a court decision that they didn't think was fair. I am concerned that all of those people who were marching would be labeled across America, in all the cities in which they were--peacefully without arrest or incident--as ``un-American.'' That's when we have to ring, if you will, our souls and find that we take from it the bias that we might perceive to be blocking us from understanding the richness of our diversity.

So I would argue that we are blessed because we have Asians, blessed because we have White people, blessed because we have Latinos, blessed because we have African Americans, blessed because of the diversity in sexual orientation, blessed because we have people who are short and tall, blessed because we have people who are wealthy and middle class, and blessed because as a Congress we can work on those who are impoverished, and we can stop the devastation of the SNAP and provide the opportunity for those individuals who are impoverished to do better.

Finally, let me say this. This past week, we

honored an icon who moved me because of the diversity of those who were honoring--from Senator Cornyn from my State and Senator McConnell, organized by Maxine Waters and Eric Cantor, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senator Durbin, and on and on and on, Leader Pelosi and CLYBURN and HOYER--and I'm sure I've missed many others--our chairwoman and Eleanor Holmes Norton. What a vast diversity of individuals who rose to honor Madiba, Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela said something that should be potent as we look to fix the inequity of self-defense laws, as many of us look at racial profiling, which exists extensively in this country, as evidenced by the heinous crime that generated the hate crimes legislation in our State of Texas--the killing of James Byrd, an individual who was dismembered, who was an African American male who was minding his business while walking along a lonely rural road. Another man was killed in Mississippi, who just came to a hotel and went out to his car, and was killed tragically just because of who he was. The numbers of cases that we've had are that impact that we have not yet understood--the greatness of America.

So we've got to change stand-your-ground laws, and I intend to introduce that legislation this week. I look for bipartisan support because, as Senator McCain said, maybe we need to look and to review federally what stand-your-ground laws are doing, not the Castle laws, but the extension of those that then carry this power out into the public where you do not have to retreat.

But I read these words of Mandela's. They say:

Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on people to be able to intensify the struggle on all fronts.

He had another quote that I'd like to read:

Honor comes when you pursue and are determined in your struggle.

He mentioned the fact that, even with humiliation, even with insults and even with defeat, if you continue in your struggle, then there is honor due.

Let me thank Mr. Jeffries for laying out the opportunity for the Congressional Black Caucus to answer the question: the road to equality is under construction. Also, let me thank him for allowing us to rise to the floor.

I go to my seat by saying that equality will come when school districts like North Forest Independent School District will not be destroyed and closed in Houston, Texas, when we raise up education; equality will come when we focus on ridding this Nation of poverty by making sure that we have the kind of economic programs; and equality will come when we recognize that justice should roll down on all of us, and that we address the question of the criminalization of African American males and others so that justice is equally applied but, as the individuals return and have done their time, that they will come to a place that is welcoming so that they can serve their Nation.

For that reason, I yield back my time with a great hope of the same message that came in the treatise by John Hope Franklin. He chaired the committee on race and said that America's greatest promise is in her diversity.

I call upon my colleagues, my friends in Texas, my friends in my district: let's sit down at the table of harmony. Let's talk about race as we embrace each other and love each other, because that's what America is all about. Thank you to the Congressional Black Caucus for its vision and its leadership.


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