Black Caucus member unveils bill to create commission addressing legacy of slavery

Greg Nash

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), unveiled a resolution on Monday that calls for establishing a commission to address the legacy of slavery.

Lee’s resolution is the latest legislative proposal put forth by members of the CBC in recent days amid nearly a week of nationwide protests over the high-profile deaths of unarmed African Americans.

“This resolution addresses the issue as it relates to the legacy of slavery and the racism in America and the lasting effects on communities of color which of course we still face today,” Lee said Monday.

Lee said the resolution had been in the works long before the previous week of protests. But its introduction comes as lawmakers search for legislative options to respond to the string of high-profile cases of police brutality and racial profiling — most recently the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. 

A since-fired Minneapolis police officer was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter after kneeling for several minutes on Floyd’s neck during an arrest.

Lee and other lawmakers argued that a special commission — called the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Commission — dedicated to studying the legacy of slavery in the United States over the course of the nation’s history would help inform policies to address modern racial injustices.

“One of our fundamental problems is the fact that we don’t really know our history, our own history, very well, it’s very hard to identify with oppression if you have no idea about the origins. It’s very easy to deny that it exists if you don’t understand the origins. And so having a resolution like this that calls for healing, that calls for reconciliation, that calls for the truth, is exactly what the country needs right now,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the current CBC chairwoman.

CBC members have been working on a variety of legislative proposals in recent days in response to the protests over Floyd’s death, as well as that of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was shot and killed in her apartment in March by police who were carrying out a night time no-knock drug warrant. 

Multiple cities, including New York City, Washington, Los Angeles and Minneapolis have issued curfews following days of protests that have at times led to looting and buildings set on fire.

Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), along with Bass and Lee, introduced a resolution last week that would condemn police brutality and the excessive use of force against African Americans. 

The resolution calls on the Justice Department to “reinstitute its role” in investigating cases of police brutality and racial profiling and expresses support for “independent, all-civilian review boards” to investigate police misconduct cases.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee also last week sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr calling for the Justice Department to investigate the deaths of Floyd, Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed after being pursued and confronted by two white men while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood in February. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that the panel will be “engaging in oversight and considering legislation in the coming weeks” to address racial profiling and police brutality, but no legislation has been specified yet. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has pointed to legislation from Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) that would create a commission to study the societal forces impacting the social status of black men and boys.

“There are all kinds of expressions of concern,” Pelosi said at a press conference last week. “But not just expressions of concern, plans to take action so that this stops.”

Tags Ayanna Pressley Barbara Lee demonstrations Frederica Wilson George Floyd Ilhan Omar Jerrold Nadler Karen Bass legacy of slavery Nancy Pelosi police brutality Protests Racial profiling Slavery William Barr

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