Racial Justice

Racial Justice

Prioritizing Racial Justice at the Federal Level

Much of what needs to be done to reform community-police relations must be done at the local level — by mayors, city councils, district attorneys, and elected sheriffs, as they are the ones who oversee police budgets, oversight, contracts, and rules. However, there is also a lot that needs to be done at the federal level to compel state and local governments in doing the right thing, and to create national standards.

Above all, we need truth and reconciliation. At the core of the issues we are facing right now is the history of slavery and the subjugation of Black people since the first slave ships arrived 400 years ago. Having served at the UN and in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations in the Obama State Department, I have studied and worked in countries around the world, and one lesson emerges, time after time: In order for us to move forward, we must grapple with our past. It is long overdue that the United States has a truth and reconciliation process. I strongly support Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s proposal to establish the first United States Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation. This Commission will not only acknowledge and memorialize our nation’s brutal history, but also examine the effects of slavery, institutional racism, and discrimination against people of color, and how our history impacts laws and policies today. It will be a much needed conversation for all of us to be able to move forward, together.

Address the broader economic and social context. In addition to the subjugation and violence of African Americans that is a stain on our history, the United States has also systematically underinvested in African American communities. From red-lining to being ineligible for the post-World War II GI Bill and many New Deal Programs, to the Tulsa massacre that destroyed hundreds of lives and the wealth that had been accumulated in Black Wall Street, the racial wealth gap today is staggering. In San Diego, before COVID-19, despite being about 4% of the population, one in three children living in families experiencing poverty were Black. We need massive investment in our African American communities and small businesses. That’s why I support H.R. 40, sponsored by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, to establish the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. I also support the American Opportunity Accounts Act, which creates a savings account for every child in America that they can use once they turn 18 to buy a house, pay for education, or start a business.

Wealth derived from housing is also a major contributor to the racial wealth gap. I support no- or low-cost loans to families and individuals who live in formerly red-lined communities, and HUD-administered grants that provide down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers who live in historically red-lined communities. And we must remove barriers that hinder access to quality skills and education in a competitive workforce. I believe the federal government should use Title I funding block grants to get states, which do the bulk of education funding, to create more equitable funding formulas. And as we’ve seen during the COVID-19 epidemic, Black Americans systematically have worse health care and outcomes. We need to fix this, and focus on the United States’ high — and increasing — maternal mortality rate, especially among Black women. Which is why I believe that healthcare is a fundamental human right and we need to do everything we can to get to universal coverage.

Create and fund alternatives to policing. The United States spends more on domestic public safety and less on domestic public services than almost all of its peer countries, and yet has higher crime rates. Due to budget cuts and small-government philosophies, we have increasingly relied on the police to address all the problems that we have in society, when even they agree they are neither trained nor best equipped to address them. We must expand access to mental health care by passing Medicare for All and the Improving Access to Mental Health Act, and by ensuring mental and behavioral health care is on par with physical health care. We must provide federal funding so that localities can instead have social workers respond to non-violent calls for help. Congress should increase the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants to at least $3.1 billion for FY 2021, and encourage localities to use this funding to hire dedicated homeless outreach workers that will use a person-centered approach to homeless outreach and services, and serve as an alternative to police response to homeless incidents.

Additionally, we need to prioritize rehabilitation and treatment over prison for low-level and nonviolent drug offenses. For too long, Congress has operated under outdated norms related to cannabis that continue to punish already vulnerable populations and waste taxpayers money on enforcement. It’s long past time for the federal government to decriminalize cannabis. And we need to make sure that tax money derived from legal cannabis sales go back to rebuilding communities that have been devastated by the War on Drugs, and that we pardon all those who are in the criminal justice system due to non-violent marijuana-related offenses that would now be considered legal.

Giving power back to our communities. A recent study found that in San Diego, the Black male suspension rate in schools is 206% higher than the school district average. We need to end the school to prison pipeline by reforming school disturbance laws to emphasize intervention rather than detention or arrest and funding counselors instead of police officers on school campuses. Moreover, we should compel the Department of Education to reinstate the 2014 federal guidance around suspensions and expulsions. And, we need to ensure that new technologies such as predictive policing do not exacerbate existing biases and inequalities.

I also support federal legislation that enables people returning from prison to re-enter society more easily, from encouraging companies and organizations to hire and invest in these individuals to fully restoring their voting rights. California is currently one of only 22 states that allows formerly incarcerated individuals to register to vote after their incarceration, probation, and parole are completed. Nationwide, African American citizens are four times more likely to face disenfranchisement; currently, 1 in 13 African American citizens of voting age are prohibited from voting due to disproportionate felony convictions, compared to 1 in 40 Americans overall.

For these reasons, we need federal laws that make racial profiling illegal. We need to use federal grants to compel law enforcement agencies to hire from within the communities they serve. And we need pre-employment screening for racial attitudes, and to create a national database so that law enforcement officers who are fired from one department for cause are not able to be hired into another. Congress must update the federal criminal code on police misconduct to cover not only willful violations, but also those who act in reckless disregard of human life and people’s constitutional rights. We must also reverse the Trump Administration limits on consent decrees, increase funding for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, and compel localities and state attorneys general to pursue their own independent investigations into police misconduct and discriminatory policing.

We need an immediate amendment to the NDAA to discontinue transfers of military weapons to police. Weapons of war do not belong on our streets. We need to set national standards on use of force — including a national ban on chokehold and carotid restraints — and deescalation, use of force reporting, and duty to intervene. The federal government should mandate and fund vastly improved training — including racial bias and de-escalation training, and compel states to ban no-knock warrants. And we need to mandate that every law enforcement agency post their policy and procedures online for transparency and accountability.