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Congressional Black Caucus conference focuses on Black lives

29th September 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Barrington M. Salmon
Contributing Writer

( — When politicians and pundits talk about public policy issues, they have a tendency to describe them in starkly dispassionate terms. But at the recently concluded 45th Annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference, many of the advocates were uniquely passionate.

Perhaps the most poignant forums were those which featured mothers of children killed by police, vigilantes and disgruntled white men. Their raw grief, unvarnished emotion and passion to be voices seeking justice for their children left many in the audiences deeply moved and in tears.

In one panel discussion, the mothers of Michael Brown, 18; Eric Garner, 45; Jordan Davis, 17, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice shared memories of their children, and ways that they’re coping with their loss. They also told how they’re keeping their offsprings’ memories alive while advocating for change.

“As angry and frustrated as we feel, we can never understand what they’re going through,” said Janaye Ingraham, national executive director of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. “These women are mothers who know their sons better than any one.”

Jordan Davis’ mother, Lucia Kay McBath, spoke about being a member of a sorority no one wants to be a part of.

“All of us here didn’t expect to be accidental activists,” said McBath, national spokesperson for the group Every Town for Gun Safety. “Even though we received justice for Jordan, we didn’t really receive justice as long as I sit at the table with other mothers…I decided early on to speak our truth, speak about gun laws.”

On November 23, 2012, Michael David Dunn, a 45-year-old software developer visiting Jacksonville, Florida for a wedding, fired 10 shots into the vehicle Jordan and his friends were sitting in, killing Jordan after an argument over loud music. Dunn was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder for shooting at Davis’ friends in the vehicle.

“I work through the grief and pain or I’d feel helpless or almost hopeless,” said McBath, who broke into tears as she spoke. “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to do this work. I’m doing this for my people and for people at large. I will speak to everyone who will listen to me.”

Her son, McBath said, was a typical child who was intuitive, full of life and was very easy to raise. A single mother for 16 years, she said she raised her son with his father, Ron Davis. McBath described her son as compassionate, inclusive, and deeply caring about his friends, family and other people.

Lezli McSpadden said she struggles every time she has an opportunity to talk to people about her son, Michael Brown.

“I was lost, trying to get direction, trying to get some grounding,” said McSpadden, pain written on her face. “I had to learn how to cope, handle myself and learn how to present myself the right way.”

Michael Brown died on the afternoon of Aug. 9, 2014, after an encounter with Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Wilson shot the unarmed teen and the authorities left his body on the street for four and a half hours. Brown’s death and Wilson’s acquittal by a grand jury sparked months of protests, demonstrations and rallies in more than 100 cities and 37 states.

At the Sept. 17 National Town Hall, titled “Black Lives: Ending Racial Profiling, Police Brutality and Mass Incarceration,” more than 1,000 conferees listened to a spirited panel discussion moderated by Roland Martin, host of “News One Now.”

“It’s not just dialogue, it’s finding proper solutions,” said Jefferies during a session break. “One important part is legislation working its way through Congress. These issues are too important to wait. I’m looking for common ground, particularly with criminal justice reform.”

Currently, the US spends $80 billion a year to keep 2.3 million people behind bars. About 1 million of those are Black men, while Latinos and Black women make up significant numbers of the incarcerated.

Jeffries, 45, has made criminal justice reform one of his priorities during his first three years in office, noting that the issue had brought together a progressive-liberal-conservative “coalition of the unusual,” including the Koch Brothers, Right on Crime, the Center for American Progress and conservative state legislatures in Texas and Indiana.

“We’re dealing with a problem of mass incarceration that adversely affects the Black community,” he said. “The U.S. is five percent of the world’s population but has 25 percent of all people imprisoned – more than any other country in the world. And many are disproportionately punished…The CBC is working diligently to fix the criminal justice system and remove issues that handcuff us in this country.”

CBCF Chairman R. Donahue Peebles said he believes bringing African Americans into the economic mainstream is a vital key to Black success. But he said policy makers, businesspeople and others must link economics with different elements of the political process.

“I feel a sense of responsibility and my colleagues feel the same thing. But we have to wake up and let the average African-American understand that the power we have in the political process can be transcended into economic empowerment,” Peebles said. “Washington, DC is the best example in the country of what economic empowerment can do. We can change the economic imbalance with a significant and quality education, a strong middle class to better build on success.”

He concluded, “It is because of the policies of previous mayors like Mayor Marion Barry. That is why minority contracting is so important. The government has to set the standard for a fair and equitable system. Washington D.C. has more than 50 percent of its contracts with minority firms, but in New York City, nine-tenths of 1 percent of city contracts goes to Black and Hispanic firms. The burden of fair play should not just be put upon Black businesses but on white businesses too.”

This article originally published in the September 28, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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