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House passes bill establishing commission to study racial disparities affecting Black men, boys

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The House on Monday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would establish a bipartisan commission to study societal disparities affecting Black men and boys.

Lawmakers approved the bill, introduced by Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), in a 368-1 vote. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) voted against the measure.

The legislation, called the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act, would create a 19-person panel consisting of lawmakers, agency officials and nongovernmental experts to investigate and make policy recommendations on “potential civil rights violations affecting black males and study the disparities they experience in education, criminal justice, health, employment, fatherhood, mentorship and violence.”

The commission would then be required to produce a public report annually and provide guidance aimed at reducing systemic racism.

Proponents of the legislation argue it is a step toward ensuring equality for all Americans.

“We’ve come a long way in America, but we still have a long way to go. Slavery was not a necessary evil, it was a crime against humanity,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said on the floor, referencing recent remarks by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on the history of slavery.

“We are still living with its legacy today. Frederick Douglass once said, ‘It’s easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.’ And so it is my hope this commission can begin the real process of repairing broken boys, broken men, broken families, and broken communities as a result of the systemic racism that has been in the soil of America for 401 years.”

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) referenced his previous work as a defense attorney in voicing his support for the commission.

“As a defense attorney, I saw how sentence disparities on drug crimes, minimum mandatory sentencing, school board sentencing, pretrial release policies often had racial impacts,” he said ahead of the vote. “By creating a bipartisan commission to study inequality in government programs, we take the necessary steps to identify and address disparities for Black American men and boys.”

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

Passage of the House bill comes as millions of Americans across the country have advocated for police reforms to prevent systemic racism following the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed in Minneapolis police custody.

Updated at 1:22 p.m.

Tags bipartisan commission Cory Booker Frederica Wilson George Floyd George Floyd protests Hakeem Jeffries House vote Kelly Armstrong legislation Marco Rubio Mo Brooks Racial disparities Tom Cotton
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