Payne Co-Hosts CBC Special Order Hour: “Bridging The Divide: Observations on Race and Justice in America”

Mar 3, 2015

On March 2, Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. joined Congresswoman Robin Kelly in co-hosting the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Special Order Hour. The topic was “Bridging The Divide: Observations on Race and Justice in America.” Below are Congressman Payne, Jr.’s closing remarks and video:

In closing, I thank Congresswoman Kelly for her leadership and for leading tonight’s Congressional Black Caucus Special Order Hour.

These special order hours give our caucus opportunities to speak directly with the American people about our work on their behalf and the issues they care about. This is something we are honored to be able to do.

I also thank those who tuned in from home. Our hope is to engage in ongoing, meaningful dialogue, and I hope that you will continue to join us on Monday nights.

Tonight, we offered our observations on race and justice in America with the goal of highlighting the significant problems with our criminal justice system that demand immediate action.

We began by discussing the nomination of Loretta Lynch as the next U.S. attorney general. 

Ms. Lynch’s nomination has been slow-walked by Republicans who would rather make it more about the President’s immigration policy than about Ms. Lynch’s qualifications and strength of character.

Ms. Lynch has earned a number of outside endorsements, including from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and her record is impeccable.

It is the hope of this caucus that the full Senate comes to realize the urgency of her nomination and confirms her immediately.

Ms. Lynch’s professional record suggests that she will embrace a vision of a Department of Justice whose mission is to advance the cause of justice and equality for all Americans.  

This is absolutely critical for African American communities, whose needs are not currently being met by our criminal justice system.

Today, we see a criminal justice system that does not treat all black lives as though they matter. 

From Staten Island to Ferguson, unarmed black men have been the victims of excessive and deadly force by law enforcement.

This creates and perpetuates distrust in our communities, and it makes it increasingly difficult to have meaningful dialogue between law enforcement and the communities they are charged with protecting.

These negative perceptions of police treatment are compounded by a number of other factors, including the disturbing gaps in incarceration rates.

African Americans are incarcerated at a rate that is seven times higher than that of white Americans. 

These individuals are removed from the workforce, often for drug-related crimes, during their prime working years.

They struggle to re-enter society, having difficulty finding jobs and becoming productive members of their communities.

Instead of immediately incarcerating those who commit drug-related crimes, more efforts should be devoted to rehabilitation.

At the same time, we need to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the “war on drugs”—a war that disproportionately affects African Americans and devastates African American and other minority communities.

And when ex-felons re-enter society, we need to ensure that our criminal justice system avoids purely punitive measures against them, including ex-felon disenfranchisement.  

This is an issue that has an overwhelmingly impact on African American communities.

Non-violent ex-felons, who served their time, will have a better chance at successfully reintegrating society and becoming productive citizens.

Finally, an essential reform of our criminal justice system is eliminating racial disparities in sentencing.

According to the National Urban League, “Mandatory minimums and disparities in crack-cocaine sentencing incarcerated countless African Americans for an inhumane length of time and have made the U.S. the world leader in prison population. This has created a modern day caste system in America.”  

When we address these issues, we will make significant progress toward a criminal justice system that reflects our values of full equality and justice for all Americans.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.