History tells us they never met, but Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were certainly allied in their shared goals and efforts to ensure equality and inclusion.
Our separate struggles are really one – a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity. You and your fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a telegram to labor leader and civil rights activist, Cesar Chavez, in 1966.
What we witnessed nearly two weeks ago with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer never should have happened and Mr. Floyd should still be alive. His death was not the first time we saw video of police brutality, and there are countless stories of unarmed African Americans who have been profiled, brutalized, or tragically losing their life as a result of police violence. And, there are the names of victims that we have come to know from their stories that have captured the attention of the nation: Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Natasha McKenna, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, and unfortunately many others.
Yet, the George Floyd story has served as the tipping point and catalyst of change and for what can only be described as a movement. A movement in the spirit of Dr. King and Chavez, peaceful protests that demanded these injustices be corrected, stringent in action that requires unity and patience as well as resolve.
In the vein of Cesar and Martin, Latino and African American leaders are united across the county to denounce hate and profiling that we see happening even in my congressional district – in Harlem, Bronx and Washington Heights. We are stronger together and must continue to stand in solidarity to unite our communities against hate and division.
As a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), I am proud to stand with my Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) colleagues to demand justice and call for an end to the police brutality and targeting of African Americans around the nation.
The Justice in Policing Act aims to remove barriers to prosecuting police misconduct and recovering damages from officers who have violated civilians’ rights, including by ending qualified immunity by law enforcement; demilitarize the police by limiting the transfer of military weaponry to state and local police departments; combat police brutality, including by requiring body and dashboard cameras, banning chokeholds, ending the use of no-knock warrants in drug cases and enacting steps to end racial profiling; step up pressure on the Justice Department to address systemic racial discrimination by law enforcement; and, officially make lynching a federal hate crime, as the House did in passing H.R. 35 earlier this year.
Many of my legislative priorities were also included in the Justice in Policing Act, which are policies highlighted in my Harlem Manifesto:
Denial of Rights Prevention and Accountability Act, which I introduced last week to change the 18 U.S.C. Sec. 242 mens rea requirement from willfulness to recklessness; the Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act, which prohibits and makes punishable the use of a chokehold or any maneuvers restricting blood flow or oxygen to the brain; the Ending Qualified Immunity Act, which explicitly states that the judicial theory of qualified immunity is not a defense to liability; the Police Exercising Absolute Care with Everyone (PEACE) Act to change the use of force standard for officers to require that force must be necessary, as a last resort; the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which prohibits the Defense Department from transferring military weapons to state and local law enforcement agencies; the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act, which creates accreditation standards to ensure compliance with approved practices and transparency within the community; and, the Police CAMERA Act, which would require all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and prohibit the seizure of cell phones or other recording devices used to document police interactions.
As someone who has long fought for communities of color in my district, I understand fully what’s at stake and vow to continue my fight for African American and Latino families around the nation to ensure all persons are treated equally under the law.
Now is the time for systemic and transformational change of America’s policing system, to transition away from a policing-first model. The best anti-crime policies are anti-poverty policies, and we must invest in our communities to foster hope, change and opportunity. If we fail to act and implement real change today, history will judge us by our inaction and failure to ensure life, liberty and justice for all.
Espaillat represents New York’s 13th District.